Simeon Solomon was born into a middle-class Jewish family in London, England on 9 October 1840, the youngest of the eight children of Meyer Solomon and Katherine (née Levy), an amateur miniature painter. Raised in Bishopsgate, he was tutored by his sister, Rebecca (1832-1886), herself a gifted artist and a regular RA exhibitor, employed as a copyist and drapery painter by John Everett Millais. Simeon also trained at F. S. Cary’s Academy (1852-56), and in the studio of his elder brother Abraham (1824-1862), who he followed to the Royal Academy Schools (1856–60). He made his exhibition debut at the Royal Academy in 1858, where he continued to show regularly until 1872. Two years later, his oil painting, Moses (Private Collection, New York), aroused controversy but was defended by the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray. Solomon’s earliest works, mostly on Old Testament subjects, were inspired by Jewish culture and tradition, the bible and Shakespeare. Around 1858, he was introduced to Gabriel Rossetti and became a member of the Pre-Raphaelite circle, later meeting Edward Burne-Jones, John Everett Millais, and William Holman Hunt. In 1862 he established his own studio and was influenced by the poet and critic Algernon Charles Swinburne, and the ideals of the Aesthetic movement. In the following decade, he regularly exhibited at the progressive Dudley Gallery in London and was elected a member of the Savile Club.

In 1873, however, Solomon was arrested in a public lavatory, convicted of gross indecency, and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment (subsequently suspended). Following a brief stay in a lunatic asylum and without consistent support, he drifted into alcoholism, living on charity and a meagre living from reproductions of his work, spending years in the St Giles Workhouse, Holborn, in London, where he died of a heart attack on 14 August 1905. Two memorial exhibitions were held in 1906 and in 2005-06 Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery curated the exhibition 'Love Revealed: Simeon Solomon and the Pre-Raphaelites', the first full-scale survey of his work, which toured to Ben Uri Gallery in London and to Museum Villa Stuck, Munich.