Princeton Museum Acquires Rare Work by Pre-Raphaelite Painter Rebecca Solomon

The Princeton University Art Museum has acquired an important work by the Pre-Raphaelite painter Rebecca Solomon. Work, A young teacher (1861), depicts a domestic scene in which a young girl teaches her family’s servant to read. Solomon was one of a small number of female artists of the time whose work was shown at the Royal Academy of Arts, and she is considered England’s first professional Jewish female artist. The model sitting for the maid was Fanny Eaton, a young black woman who modeled for several important painters of the period.

“Besides the fact that there is a technical skill in the execution of the painting for which Rebecca Solomon is often not credited, we can find in it a remarkable sense of empathy – one woman operating on the fringes in Victorian England and the other with great compassion and insight,” said James Steward, director of the Princeton University Art Museum. “This fits with Solomon’s work as a reformer, who was one of a group of women artists who asked the schools of the Royal Academy to admit women , which indeed happened in 1860, just a year before she made this painting.”

Eaton was most likely introduced to Solomon through her brother Simeon Solomon, who was also a painter and also employed Eaton as a model. Much is known about Eaton’s biography – she was born in Jamaica in 1835 before moving to England with her mother, a formerly enslaved woman, when she was a teenager. Eaton and her husband, a taxi driver, had ten children together, and she supplemented his income with her modeling work. She became a sought-after model for the Pre-Raphaelites, posing for Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, Albert Moore and others.

A young teacher was first exhibited in 1861 at Henry Wallis’s French Gallery in London, where it received praise from critics but not sold. It was shown in Liverpool the following year with an asking price of £64, roughly £8,280 today, but it is unclear whether or not it has sold. According to Sotheby’s, ownership history is lost from then until 1964, when the grandparents of the most recent owner received the painting as a gift from an employer.

The painting was bought by the museum from Sotheby’s in March, where it sold for £302,400 (with fees) – or ten times the high estimate† “We had no doubt that it would go far beyond his estimate; These types of works are in high demand by both institutions and private collectors,” says Steward. “It was just a question of how many other potential buyers wanted it as much as we did. I believe it set a new record for the artist at auction – as it should. It is exemplary in her work.”

In 1873, Solomon’s brother was arrested for “homosexual crimes” and the ensuing scandal ended the art careers of both siblings. In 1886, at age 54, she was hit by a horse-drawn taxi and died.

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