The 1994 Holst Exhibitions in London and Cheltenham

After 150 years since the early death of the artist, his first one-man exhibition finally launched at Hazlitt, Gooden and Fox Ltd where all significant and accessable known works by Holst in European public and private collections were gathered together for the first time. It was a tribute to the artist, his followers (which notably include the Pre-Raphaelite circle) and the more recent fine art professionals who recognised the role of Holst and were critical in rescuing him from undeserved oblivion. The private view on 4th May attracted much interest and included such prominent visitors as the Director of the National Gallery and Lord and Lady Lytton. Art critic Brian Sewell, himself a lender and Holst enthusiast, published a buoyant whole page review in the Evening Standard and lead the way in the media. The Burlington Magazine, Apollo and other journals all gave positive reviews which must have influenced the excellent turn out for such an unknown figure in both London and Cheltenham.

Here is a photo taken the day Brian Sewell visited along with the Fuseli scholar David Weinglass:

This tremendous endeavour was made possible by the enthusiasm and resources of Lindsay Stainton, Director at Hazlitt's, and George Breeze, Chief Art Gallery and Museums Officer at Cheltenham. In particular the extensive loans from the principal London public collections seemed a miracle with so little funding available. Tate Britain, the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, who trusted the galleries, got on board and the miracle happened. I am still proudly and gratefully amazed. Here is a shot at Hazlitt's the morning after Brian's review came out. This illustrates a somewhat poetic circle of fate: Holst painted this darkly charged portrait, Rossetti liked it, published a poem about it and then declared someone should write an account of Holst before possible total oblivion overtook him. A century later Brian bought her, I identified her and there we have it, all in one picture, as she gazes down at the review based on the catalogue. Destiny fullfilled!

After six weeks at Hazlitt's the exhibition moved to Cheltenham where the curator, Jonathan Bennington, could report that attendance was one of the best in recent times. Perhaps this was helped in some degree by a minor controversy when a ruffled local resident accused the gallery of showing pornographic drawings. The local papers jumped on the possibilities until the gallery explained that one, not fully authenticated, item of an erotic nature loaned by the V&A would not be shown at Cheltenham. Shortly afterwards a cartoon appeared in the London Evening Standard showing a humorous representation of Michaelangelo's statue of David sporting a pair of Y-fronts for the Cheltenham visitors!

By 2010, in his Forward to the second catalogue, Brian could report on the success of putting Holst on the map. Further important works and information had appeared and critically again it was the professionals who picked up the baton. A new generation of curators were inspired to add this new dish to their menus to the extent that Holst became a significant artist in Martin Myrone's Gothick Nightmares exhibition at Tate Britain in 2006. Martin had been introduced to Holst's work as a visitor to the 1994 exhibition and has subsequently been instrumental in raising his public profile in collaboration with his senior colleague Alison Smith who included Holst's The Bride in Tate Britain's Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde exhibition in 2012. She also secured the acquisition of this important painting for the gallery where it now hangs appropriately alongside those of the Pre-Raphaelite circle at last.

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