Solomon Alexander Hart was born in Plymouth in 1806, the son of Samuel Hart, a goldsmith, engraver and Hebrew teacher. His grandfather, Henry, was from Ansbach in Germany and settled in Plymouth as a rum merchant.
In 1820, Solomon moved to London with his father to learn line engraving with Charles Warren. His studies began by drawing classical sculptures in the British Museum.
Through this he gained the confidence of fellow-Plymothian James Northcote, a well-respected Academician, who wrote a letter of recommendation for him.
To support himself and his father financially, Solomon painted miniature copies and coloured theatrical prints in the evenings.
In 1823, he was admitted to the Royal Academy Schools and started exhibiting three years later.
In 1835, he was elected as an Associate of the Academy and five years later became a Royal Academician – the first Jew to receive this honour.
During 1841-1842 he visited Italy, where he made a series of drawings of historical sites and architectural interiors, including this interior of the church of San Lorenzo in Naples. Letters in the city’s archives also refer to his works.
By 1854, Solomon was professor of painting at the Academy – an office he held until 1863. Thumbnails of many of his works are on the Academy’s website and include three men at Cattedown, interiors of the Hebrew Synagogue in Plymouth and a self-portrait.
On his deathbed, Hart undertook an ambitious project to dictate his memoirs. These ‘Reminiscences’ are a unique record of his life and a personal account of the early days of the Royal Academy.
In them he details the service of presidents, officials and artists he knew during his time there. Peppered throughout are accounts of dinner parties, studio visits and, of course, his stories of painting a large and ambitious work called ‘The Execution of Lady Jane Grey’.
Solomon died in 1881 and is considered one of the most influential Jewish artists of 19th century Britain.