The Art Gallery of New South Wales purchased Sir Edward Poynter’s epic painting of “The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon” in 1892 from Thomas McLean (Haymarket Gallery, London) who had paid 6,000 pounds for it in 1890 and made great sums of money by exhibiting it throughout the United Kingdom.

The artist had a scale model made, complete in every detail, to enable him to portray with great accuracy and authority the light and shadow as it fell on the metallic surfaces and architectural forms. The sweeping grandeur and meticulous attention to detail in his work invite a closer look.

Curiously some figures in the background merge into the pillars, perhaps the result of an afterthought, an overzealous cleaning or a strange aging process. Look at the sumptuousness and splendour of Solomon's Court and consider the reason for her visit and the result of it.

Legend has it that about 3000 years ago the Queen of Sheba and her entourage visited King Solomon in Jerusalem, bringing rare spices such as frankincense and myrrh, precious stories and 'an hundred and twenty talents of gold'. She did not seek his fabulous wealth nor try to test his famed wisdom; it was her intention to have a son by him. 'King Solomon gave unto the Queen of Sheba all her desire, whatsoever she asked' (Kings 1.10.13).

He slept with her (and her maidservant) and it is said that Solomon and Sheba begat King Menelik 1. who founded the royal line of Ethiopia. Menelik grew up in Ethiopia and when he was 20, returned to King Solomon's Court, where he stayed for a year until a dispute arose with the elders about favouritism.

As a result, Menelik, together with the first-born sons of the elders were sent into exile. They stole the `Ark of the Covenant' from the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Solomon and took it to Ethiopia, believing that because they had got away, it must have been God's will.

Edward John Poynter became one of the most popular painters of his day. He was later very influential as an administrator, becoming the first Slade Professor of Fine Art, Director of the National Gallery and President of the Royal Academy.