Museum of the Home and Tate jointly acquire Rebecca Solomon’s A Young Teacher

Rebecca Solomon's A Young Teacher
Rebecca Solomon's A Young Teacher

Museum of the Home and Tate have worked together to bid for, and hold joint ownership of, Rebecca Solomon’s A Young Teacher. Solomon’s iconic painting will be held equally by both organisations. Following the acquisition, A Young Teacher will first go to Tate Britain to be displayed this summer in their newly opened Pre-Raphaelite room. From late 2024 it will travel to the Museum of the Home to be displayed there.

A Young Teacher is a fascinating, beautiful and important painting, embodying themes of inequality in gender, race, religion, wealth and education in mid-19th century London. At first it seems to be a simple image of a child reading with her sister and a maid. The picture becomes more poignant when we consider that it was painted by a Jewish woman, one of the best-known female artists of her generation and that it depicts a working-class woman of mixed-race heritage.

The painting is a medium-sized oil on canvas in its original arched-top frame. It is signed at bottom left with the artist’s monogram ‘RS’ and the date ‘61’. It was exhibited at Henry Wallis’ French Gallery Winter Exhibition at the end of 1861 and seemingly did not sell, fading into obscurity. It was rediscovered in the mid-1980s when the Geffrye Museum (now Museum of the Home) and Birmingham City Art Gallery held an important exhibition on the Solomon family of artists and the owners of A Young Teacher contacted the curators to share the painting with them.

The main character in A Young Teacher is interpreted as the recipient of the title’s teaching, rather than the teacher herself. As a woman of black heritage in 1861, she would probably not have had a formal education and Solomon seems to be aware of this and sympathetic to it. As a member of the Jewish community living in London in the mid-19th century, Solomon was also part of a marginalised strata of society.

Solomon was particularly interested in subjects of contemporary life, often depicting gender, economic or ethnic prejudice. In 1854 she painted The Governess, comparing the lives of a working-class woman and a married woman of a higher status, within a domestic setting. In 1859 she showed her activism for contemporary social reform by joining a group of 38 female artists petitioning the Royal Academy of Arts to open its schools to women – this led to the first woman being admitted to the Academy in 1860. Solomon became the first female artist of Jewish faith to make a reputation as an artist.

This acquisition is of great importance to Museum of the Home. As they develop their galleries and collections to better represent the communities they serve, acquiring a painting where the themes of race, class, faith and gender intersect is of enormous significance.

Sonia Solicari, Director at Museum of the Home, comments, For Museum of the Home the acquisition of A Young Teacher by Rebecca Solomon underpins the redevelopment of our world-famous period rooms. Not only do we now hold three of Solomon’s paintings, we’re also bringing to light the neglected history of the South Asian Ayah into our 1870s period room alongside that of Fanny Eaton the painter’s model who lived for a while in Shoreditch.

We’re so grateful to everyone who worked with us to acquire this socially and historically important painting.

Polly Staple, Director of Collection, British Art, Tate, commented, Tate has been actively increasing the representation of women artists in the national collection, and we are thrilled to be acquiring this wonderful painting by an important figure in the Pre-Raphaelite era. Bringing Rebecca Solomon’s A Young Teacher into public ownership will allow Tate, Museum of the Home, and other museums and galleries around the country to better represent the incredible range of talent found in British art history.

Minister for Arts and Heritage, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, commented, As well as demonstrating Rebecca Solomon’s artistry, this wonderfully layered piece reveals her deep social consciousness and invites us to reflect on people’s different experiences of nineteenth-century society.

I am delighted that the export bar placed on the painting has allowed the Museum of the Home and Tate to acquire it so that the public can continue to engage with it for generations to come.

Jenny Waldman, Director, Art Fund, commented, Rebecca Solomon’s A Young Teacher is important for many reasons; not just because Solomon was a remarkable pre-Raphaelite painter overlooked in the art historical canon for being female and Jewish, but also for her sensitive depiction of the Jamaican-born Fanny Eaton when people of colour were rarely the subject of Victorian painting. I’m delighted that Art Fund has supported this shared acquisition by Tate and Museum of the Home, bringing the work into public display for current and future generations.

Andrew Hochhauser KC, Chair of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, commented, On behalf of the Committee, I am delighted that Rebecca Solomon’s painting, A Young Teacher has been saved for the nation, having been acquired jointly by Tate and Museum of the Home. Rebecca Solomon was a pioneering Jewish painter who campaigned for women artists. The painting is a bold and ambitious meditation on issues of gender, race, intimacy and education, and will enrich our understanding of Victorian art and culture.

A Young Teacher was acquired jointly by Tate and the Museum of the Home, with funds provided by the Nicholas Themans Trust, Art Fund, the Abbott Fund and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

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