L’Art pour L’Art

May 27, 2007

Two Acolytes Censing, Pentecost
Simeon Solomon (1840-1905)

1863 | Watercolor | dimensions: 40.2 x 35 cm.

Simeon Solomon was one of the most distinguished painters of Victorian England’s Aesthetic movement. Together with Swinburne, Rossetti, and Burne-Jones, Solomon delighted in the passionate and sensual aspects of life. Although these Pre-Raphaelites did not resist allegorical and classical motifs, they nonetheless led inspired those who held the theory of ‘L’Art pour L’Art,’ or ‘Art for Art’s Sake.’ First invented by French poet, novelist and critic, Theophile Gautier (1811-1872), the theory denied that art could, or should, be in anyway useful (10).

Two Acolytes Censing, Pentecost Two Acolytes Censing, Pentecost (1863) remains one of Solomon’s best known works since it depicts a highly sensual ritual. Nothing indicates that the painting refers to a literary work or has an allegorical meaning; instead, the viewer is supposed to share Solomon’s aesthetic appreciation of church ritual. Even though he was Jewish, Solomon, like other Aesthetics, was deeply drawn to ornate High Church and Roman Catholic ceremonies featuring narcissus and arum lilies banked before the alter, candles, altar lights, clouds of incense dispensed from censers, and elaborate dress (14).

Two Acolytes captures the best of those opulent High Church features. Here we see two boys dressed in brightly colored robes. The left acolyte swings a censer fumigating incense. Atop the altar stand a lavishly gilded candlestick and a vase of white lilies. Solomon painted with broad strokes that favor color– gold, white, and red–over precise detail. It is as if we are sitting among the congregation, caring not so much for specific minutia but plenty for ceremony as a whole. We care less about the robes’ embroidery than their deep glowing color, less about the censer’s craftsmanship than the pungent fumes it emits.

Two Acolytes was meant to be beautiful not useful. We do not learn a lesson or gaze introspectively upon the boys. The painting is purely aesthetic, although whether or not we like it is another question. — www.victorianweb.org/…/paintings/2.html


2 Responses to “L’Art pour L’Art”

  1. kms said

    Father, when you read this can you say a quick prayer for me? I had a bad dream where I couldn’t get to my youngest in time to keep her from harm. Blech. Now I’m wide awake in the middle of the night. Thank you!

  2. rev fr lw gonzales said


    Lovely family. Be assured of my prayers.

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