BIOGRAPHICAL OUTLINE

 

1810. Born 3rd September, in London, to Livonian parents recently emigrated from Riga and the trauma of the Napoleonic Wars. Father is a music- teacher and composer.

1820. The Holst family have become acquainted with Henry Fuseli, Keeper and Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy, enabling their young protege, Theodor, to receive his first tuition. The President of the Royal Academy, Sir Thomas Lawrence, gives 3gns. for a pencil-sketch which he sees whilst the young Holst is copying from antique statues in the British Museum. Lawrence is later criticised, in Holst's Art-Union obituary, for leading Holst astray with his commission of erotic drawings for George IV.

1824. Holst becomes a student at the Royal Academy and continues to be a favourite pupil of Fuseli until the latter's death the following year. He continues his association with Sir Thomas Lawrence and frequently visits his studio which gives him access to Lawrence's magnificent collection of Old Master drawings.

1827. William Blake dies. Holst exhibits first work at the Royal Academy, Witches hastening to the Hartzgebirg, from Goethe's Faust thus becoming the first English illustrator of this greatest of German plays and his favourite literary source. A celebrated operatic version had been staged, at Drury Lane, two years before which inspired the visiting Delacroix to publish his influential series of lithographs. These masterly and demonic designs may have deterred the young Holst from continuing with his own series of illustrations for Faust, which were to have been engraved by his friend John Sartain. He now combines stylistic elements from Fuseli with motifs from Rennaisance masters and the medievalism of the German Romantics as the basis for his work; features much admired later by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelites.

1829. The sculptor Thomas Hughes exhibits a bust of Holst at the Royal Society of British Artists gallery. Holst visits Germany and meets the influential illustrator Moritz Retzsch in Dresden.

1830. Deaths of Sir Thomas Lawrence and King George IV. Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, friend and fellow Fuseli disciple insures the life of his sister-in-law, Helen Abercrombie, one of Fuseli's models for his Undine illustrations, and despatches her with strychnine. The insurance companies become suspicious and Wainewright leaves for France.

1831. Becomes the first illustrator of Frankenstein with Colburn and Bentley's Standard Novels edition, and produces further book illustrations during the next few years. Edward Lytton Bulwer becomes a patron, buying the large The Drinking Scene from Faust, and later uses material gleaned from Holst, concerning Wainewright, in his novel Lucretia, or The Children of Night.

1832. Passage of the Reform Bill marks the division between the long established aristocratic values of wealth, taste and patronage and the reactionary rising middle-class entrepreneurs of pre-Victorian England. The aim of the 'Grand Manner' gives way to that of 'domestic genre'.

1834. Anna Jameson praises Holst in her Visits and Sketches at Home and Abroad and Colburn and Bentley publish a frontispiece by Holst for her Beauties of the Court of Charles II.

1837. Accession of Queen Victoria. Wainewright returns to England, is harboured by Holst and later arrested and tried for forgery on the Bank of England. He is sentenced and transported 'for life' to the Hobart penal colony, Tasmania. Holst enters his most prolific period of painting, with not less than three pictures exhibited at the major London exhibitions each year until his death.

1840. The Treasure-seeker and Hero and Leander are both hung so high on the walls at the Royal Academy Exhibition that they could not be reviewed.

1841. Awarded the British Institution prize of 50 guineas for The Raising of Jairus' Daughter and sells The Wish at the same exhibition to Lord Northwick, in whose collection it is admired by Rossetti and later becomes the subject of his first published poem The Card-Dealer. The Royal Manchester Association for the Promotion of the Fine Arts awarded a prize of £26.5s. for A German Tea Garden at Dresden. Marries his favourite model Amelia Thomasina Symmes Villard, aged 20, on 17th August at Marylebone but this previously inspiring muse then refuses to continue posing nude and becomes the opposite for the increasingly unhappy artist.

1842. The Bride is purchased from the British Institution by the Duchess of Sutherland and is later admired by Rossetti. The Marquess of Lansdowne commissions a version for his celebrated collection and also buys Spanish Lady at the R.A. the following year.

1844. Dies 14th February, in London, from liver failure, whilst working on a portrait of Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton. Funeral and untimely death given sympathetic account by B.R.Haydon but William Bell Scott comments that it saved Holst's jealous wife from using the stilletto she was rumoured to keep for the purpose. Sale of remaining works at Christies, 26th June.

1845. Posthumous exhibition of A sketch from Zanoni at the British Institution. The Raising of Jairus' Daughter is engraved for Gems of European Art. Father, Matthias von Holst, dies in Hampstead.

1846. B.R. Haydon commits suicide. Bulwer Lytton publishes Lucretia, or, The Children of Night, the novel woven around the infamous Wainewright and the information gleaned from Holst about him.

1848. Dante Gabriel Rossetti writes to Ford Madox-Brown of 'that great painter Von Holst' and founds the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood with Millais, Holman Hunt and others who frequently meet at Campbell's Scotch Stores restaurant, off Regent Street, because, according to William Rossetti 'it was hung around with pictures by Theodore Von Holst'.

(©1994 Max Browne - extracted fron The Romantic Art of Theodor Von Holst)

 

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