Solomon | A Solemn Man

British painter, Solomon Joseph Solomon, was born in London, on 16 September, 1860. Solomon’s family was Jewish, and his sister, Lily Delissa Joseph (née Solomon), was also a painter. Solomon studied at various art schools, such as, Heatherley School of Fine Art, the Royal Academy Schools, the Munich Academy, and École des Beaux-Arts (under Alexandre Cabanel 1823-1889). Solomon also studied separately under Rev. S. Singer. Solomon’s painting was not only grounded in his influence from Cabanel, but also from Frederic Leighton and Lawrence Alma-Tadema.

Solomon had a successful career as an important artist and painter of historical, biblical and romantic scenes. Two examples are featured here:

  • St George, (c 1906), Diploma work accepted by the Royal Academy. The subject, St George, the Patron Saint of England, was a popular subject for artists particularly after the Boer War (1899-1902), when images of chivalric gallantry were well received.
  • Laus Deo, Japan-British Exhibition and Royal Academy Winter Exhibition (1928), is a large picture of a mounted knight guarded by the Angel of Fame or Glory or Sanctity leaving behind him the love and pleasures of the world. The knight singing Laus Deo, harks back to the days of chivalry and Knights Errant.

Solomon exhibited his first works as early as 1881, and showed at the Royal Academy, the New Gallery, and the Society of British Artists. In 1886, he became one of the founding members of the New English Art Club. In 1896, he became an associate of the Royal Academy, with full membership following in 1906, and one of the few Jewish painters to do so. He joined, and became President of the Royal Society of British Artists in 1919.

At the start of World War I, Solomon became a private in The Artists Rifles, a Territorial Force regiment. Solomon was interested in the French forces use of camouflage and promoted his ideas to senior army officers. In December 1915, General Herbert Plumer arranged for Solomon to visit the front lines and investigate camouflage techniques in use by the French. On return, Solomon was asked to set up a team to start the production of camouflage materials in France. On 31 December, 1915, General Haig, Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in France, instructed that as a pioneer of camouflage techniques, Solomon be given the temporary rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, to enable him to carry out his new duties.

The new unit’s first task was to design armoured observation posts disguised as trees. Although Solomon was effective at the artistic and technical tasks of designing trees and nets, he was not as effective as a commander. Solomon was replaced in March 1916, and became a technical advisor, a role that suited him better. In May, 1916, he was sent to England to help develop tank camouflage. Solomon doubted that tanks could be effectively camouflaged, since they cast a large shadow. Instead, he argued for the use of camouflage netting, claiming that the Germans were hiding huge armies under immense nets.

In December 1916, Solomon established a camouflage school in Hyde Park which was eventually taken over by the army. Although camouflage netting was initially considered unimportant by the army; it was not manufactured in large quantities until 1917. Eventually, in 1920, Solomon published a book, Strategic Camouflage, arguing this case, to critical derision in England, but with some support from German newspapers.

  • Solomon died on 27 July, 1927, at the age of 66, at Birchington-on-Sea, in Kent, England.

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