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Vita brevis, ars longa

Stella Solomons Folder1-5_0001Artist Estella Frances Solomons, (1882–1968), was the second among four children of Maurice E. Solomons, and Rosa Jane Solomons (née Jacobs) of Hull. Rosa was a gifted musician and published volumes of verse. Estella trained in Dublin and London, being taught by, among others, Walter Osborne and William Orpen. She was elected an associate of the RHA in July 1925, but it was not until 1966 that she was elected an honorary member. Her work was included in the Academy’s annual members’ exhibition every year for sixty years.

Solomons forged a reputation as a talented etcher and was one of very few artists in Dublin to specialise in this medium in which she depicts Dublin city and used it for portraits and book illustration. As her parents were opposed to her marrying outside her Jewish faith, it was not until August 1925, when she was 43 and her husband 46, that she married Methodist Seumas O’Sullivan (James Starkey), the editor and founder of the influential literary publication the Dublin Magazine; it was a famously happy marriage. The couple’s home in Rathfarnham was an informal salon for many leading Irish cultural and political figures.

TCD MS 4631/388 Letter from Margaret Pearse who had been asked to donate an item to the auction in aid of The Volunteers' Dependants Fund
TCD MS 4631/388 Letter from Margaret Pearse who had been asked to donate an item to the auction in aid of The Volunteers’ Dependants Fund
TCD MS 4060-49/395 Ticket for concert in aid of The Volunteers' Dependants Fund
TCD MS 4060-49/395 Ticket for concert in aid of The Volunteers’ Dependants Fund

Estella had ‘an unyielding patriotism and a lifelong devotion to all things Irish’ (Dictionary of Irish Biography). During the 1916 Easter Rising, a chance meeting with another young woman, Kathleen Goodfellow, who was sheltering from snipers’ bullets, led to a lifelong friendship. Together, they enlisted in Cumann na mBan, where they were taught first aid, drilling and signalling by Phyllis Ryan, later to become the wife of President Sean T. O’Kelly. Estella concealed ammunition in the family vegetable garden before delivering it to a Sinn Fein agent.

TCD MS 4655/98
TCD MS 4655/98

In her studio at Great Brunswick Street she sheltered a number of IRA men on the run and painted their portraits; one of the few survivals from among these works is the picture of de Valera’s brother-in -law Fr Michael O’Flanagan.

The Solomons papers in the Library includes several portfolios of her work – from student studies to finished prints and drawings. It also includes some very attractive prints by her relative Louisa Jacobs and works by a number of her friends including Wilhelmina Geddes, Art O’Murnaghan, Mary Duncan and Frances ‘Cissie’ Beckett – Samuel Beckett’s aunt. There are also a series of sketch books by George Russell (AE) who inexplicably continues to attract higher prices than Solomons at auction. Most entertaining is the perfectly awful pastel study which, according to the note on the back, was produced by W.B.Yeats under AE’s guidance.

The Library also has some papers of Trinity graduate and literary translator Kathleen Goodfellow who played a substantial financial and editorial role in the Dublin Magazine, throughout its existence. Michael Solomons, Estella’s nephew, described Goodfellow as ‘an exceptional person’ without whom the Dublin Magazine could not have survived. It was Goodfellow who donated the Morehampton Road Wildlife Sanctuary to the people of Ireland as a place of refuge for wild creatures and plants.

Jane Maxwell
Manuscripts & Archives Research Library