Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hart, Solomon Alexander

HART, SOLOMON ALEXANDER (1806–1881), painter, was born at Plymouth in April 1806. He was of the Jewish race and religion. His father was Samuel Hart of Plymouth, who began life as a worker in silver and gold at Bath; he is mentioned by Bromley (Catalogue of Engraved British Portraits, 1793) as a mezzotint engraver, and studied painting under Northcote in London in 1785.

Young Hart was educated under the Rev. Israel Worsley, a unitarian minister. Father and son went to London in 1820; the former taught Hebrew and the latter prepared drawings to become a student at the Royal Academy, where he was admitted in August 1823. To gain his living and help to support his father he coloured theatrical prints and painted a few miniatures. He commenced exhibiting at Somerset House with a miniature of his father in 1826. His first oil painting, ‘Instruction,’ was shown two years later at the British Institution, and was sold at the private view. Next year he was an exhibitor of five pictures, but did not sell one. In 1830 he exhibited at the Society of British Artists in Suffolk Street a more ambitious work called ‘Interior of a Polish Synagogue,’ afterwards known as ‘The Elevation of the Law’ (engraved in the Art Journal, 1851). This was purchased by Robert Vernon and bequeathed by him with his other pictures to the nation. It was so attractive that Hart received seventeen commissions, of which he was only able to execute three, one being a companion picture for Mr. Vernon, 'English Nobility receiving the Communion of the Catholic Church.' 'The Quarrel Scene between Wolsey and Buckingham' was in the Royal Academy exhibition of 1834, where also was shown 'Richard Cœur de Lion and Saladin'(1835). Hart was elected an associate of the Academy in 1835. The following year he painted 'Sir Thomas More receiving the Benediction of his Father.' In 1839 he exhibited a large picture of 'Lady Jane Grey at the Place of her Execution on Tower Hi11,' which secured his election as royal academician in 1840. The painting remained rolled up in his studio until 1879, when he presented it to Plymouth, his native town, where it is placed in the hall of the new municipal buildings. He was occupied with a portrait of the Duke of Susex in the autumn of 1840. This was exhibited in the following May. The duke advised him to travel, and gave him letters of introduction. Hart left England 1 Sept. 1841, and visited Italy, where he mnde many architectural and other drawings, originally intended for publication as a series of engravings. They were ultimately used as studies for his pictures of Italian history and scenery, among which are: 'Interiors of the Cathedrals at Modena and Pisa,' 'An Offering to the Virgin,' 'A Reminiscence of Ravenna,' and 'The Interior of the Baptistry of St.Mark's at Venice as in 1842,' exhibited at Hurlington House in 1880; 'Simchoth Torah Festival' (1845), 'Milton Visiting Galileo in Prison' (1847),'The Introduction of Raphael to Pope Julius.' There may also be mentioned 'The Three Inventors of Printing' (1852), and 'The Conference between Manasseh ben Israel and Oliver Cromwell' (1878).

In 1854 Hart succeeded C. R. Leslie as professor of painting at the Academy. He held the office until 1863. From 1865 to his death he acted as librarian of the institution. In spite of advancing years and failing powers he continued regularly to exhibit, and his reputation greatly suffered. His earlier works show great technical skill and vigour of expression. He was very painstaking in the mechanical and antiquarian accuracy of his subjects. Between 1826 and 1880 he is stated by Mr. Graves (Dictionary of Artists, 1884, p. 109) to have publicly exhibited 180 pictures, chiefly scriptural and historical. He painted several portraits of persons of his own faith; the best perhaps was that of Ephraim Alex (1870), founder and first president of the Jewish board of guardians, Devonshire Square, city of London. He will be best remembered for his connection with the library of the Royal Academy, which he may be said to have created. He devoted himself to the discharge of this duty with much skill and unceasing diligence. 'A Catalogue of Books in the Library' was printed in 1877. Hart was curator of the Painted Hall at Greenwich, and was elected by the committee of the Athenæum Club in 1845. He was very learned in the history of the fine arts; he had a strong vein of humour, an intense love for his profession, and was a high-minded and honourable man. He lived a believing and observant Jew. 'His 'Reminiscences' (edited by A. Brodie,1882. contain some interesting stories of the numerous artistic celebrities he had known. He died unmarried at his residence, 36 Fitzroy Square, London, 11 June 1881, in his seventy-sixth year. His brother, Mark Mordecai Hart, was an engraver.

[Personal knowledge; Reminiscences of S. A. Hart, ed, A. Brodie, London, privately printed 1882, sm. 8vo, with photograph; Jewish Chronicle, 17 June 1881; Athenæum, 18 June 1881; Men of the Time, 10th edit. 1879, pp. 492-3; Bryan's Dictionary (R. E, Graves), 1886, i. 629; G. Redford's Art Sales,1888, ii. 50).]

H. R. T.