Princeton University Art Museum Acquires Rare Work by Landmark Pre-Raphaelite Artist Rebecca Solomon

Rebecca Solomon (1832–1886; born London, UK; died London), A Young Teacher, 1861. Oil on canvas; 61 × 51 cm, 83 × 73.5 cm (frame). Museum purchase, Surdna FundPRINCETON, N.J. – The Princeton University Art Museum has acquired Rebecca Solomon’s A Young Teacher (1861), a rare and important example of the work of the first professional Jewish woman artist in Britain. Showcasing the technical skill and stylistic fluency that brought Solomon critical acclaim in the male-dominated art world of nineteenth-century England, the painting depicts a scene of Victorian domesticity with both a keen social consciousness and remarkably nuanced feeling.

“As an empathetic portrayal of a woman of color by a Jewish woman dating from Victorian Britain, A Young Teacher is an exceedingly rare and important art historical document,” said James Steward, Nancy A. Nasher–David J. Haemisegger, Class of 1976, Director. “The fact that the work operates at an exceptional level of technical prowess, coupled with the artist’s status as an outsider artist depicting a woman of color who was central to the Pre-Raphaelite movement, makes it a profoundly stirring—and teachable—acquisition.”

Born in London in 1832, Solomon was likely initially trained by her artist brother, Abraham, and began her professional career as an assistant to artists such as the prominent Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais, with whom her work can be favorably compared. She was one of few women in her time whose work was accepted for exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, where she exhibited regularly throughout the 1850s and 1860s. Genre subjects—portrayals of ordinary people in everyday life—dominated her output.

Solomon was an active supporter of women’s rights and an early advocate for the admission of women to the Royal Academy; her genre scenes often addressed the injustices of the stratified society in which she lived. A Young Teacher, which depicts a child instructing a mixed-race maid in reading while the maid holds the child’s younger sister, conveys a particularly nuanced sensitivity to gender, class, and racial inequalities.

The model for the maid in A Young Teacher, Fanny Eaton, is a rare model of color from the time about whom much is known. She was born in Jamaica and moved to London with her mother, a former slave, in the 1840s. Eaton quickly became a highly sought-after model who often appears as an anonymous peripheral figure in the works of many Pre-Raphaelite artists. A Young Teacher is the second work in Princeton’s collections in which Eaton appears as the central figure, the first being Walter Fryer Stocks’s exquisite chalk drawing (ca. 1859) of Eaton, acquired in 2016.

Solomon’s career effectively ended with the scandal that erupted in the face of her brother Simeon’s arrest for homosexual offenses, adding yet another compelling chapter to the story of Solomon’s life. She died in 1886 at the age of fifty-four when she was struck down by a hansom cab on London’s Euston Road.

A Young Teacher is the first of Solomon’s works to enter the Museum’s considerable collection of European painting and sculpture, which includes important holdings of works by women artists such as Mary Cassatt’s Little Girl in a Large Red Hat (ca. 1881), acquired in 2021.

About the Princeton University Art Museum

With a collecting history that extends back to 1755, the Princeton University Art Museum is one of the leading university art museums in the country, with collections that have grown to include more than 113,000 works of art ranging from ancient to contemporary art and spanning the globe. Committed to advancing Princeton’s teaching and research missions, the Art Museum also serves as a gateway to the University for visitors from around the world.

The main Museum building is currently closed for the construction of a bold and welcoming new building, designed in partnership with Sir David Adjaye and slated to open in late 2024.

Art@Bainbridge is located in downtown Princeton at 158 Nassau Street. Art@Bainbridge hours are Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Art on Hulfish, the Museum’s photo-focused gallery located at 11 Hulfish Street in Palmer Square, also in downtown Princeton, is open daily.

Admission to both galleries is free.

Please visit the Museum’s website for digital access to the collections and a diverse portfolio of virtual programs. The Museum Store in Palmer Square, located at 56 Nassau Street in downtown Princeton, is open daily, or shop online at princetonmuseumstore.org.

More information: artmuseum.princeton.edu

# # #

Media Contacts:

Princeton University Art Museum
Gabrielle Langholtz
347-668-4323
gml@princeton.edu

Blue Water Communications
Stephanie Miller
800-975-3212
stephanie@bluewatercommunications.biz