Sample entries from the 1994 exhibition catalogue

(the catalogue entries are divided into the following sections from which some samples are given below)

Self-Portraits and Caricatures - Copies and Courtesans - Faust and Romance - Dante and the Bible - Poets and Portraits


1 Self-Portrait 1827

Pen and watercolour, 3 3/4x3 1/4ins (9.7x7.7cm)
Drawn on a letter from Gustavus, Theodor and Constantia, to their parents in Riga dated '24. April 1827'
Prov: Von Holst family by descent
Lit: Schiff, Die Faust=Illustrationen, 1962, p.76 (repr pl.3)
Cheltenham, Gustav Holst Birthplace Museum

This is the earlist known likness of the artist, aged 16, executed at the time he was finishing his first work to be exhibited at the Royal Academy the following month. Holst writes: 'Dear Father and Mother / gustav has sent a sketch which I made of myself but it is the worst done of three which I made.
when hell links the chain
strugling is in vain /
I've sent a drawing to the Exhibition from Faust which is admitted luckily contrary to my thoughts. likewise I go to Sir Thom Lawrence where I have just come from and am going again Sunday.' In the same letter the artist's elder brother, Gustavus, recounts how 'Theodore did not wish to send this one, because it looks like a boy. He did another which he intended for you looking like a Man.' This letter, and another dated '21 May 1827' describe how the three younger Holsts have been managing without their parents and Gustavus writes: 'We learn with pleasure that we may look forward to your return to England in a couple of months.'

It was not long after this that a contributor to the Peoples Journal paid the visit to Holst's studio which he so vividly described twenty years later [p. 11] and noted, even then, that Holst was already sporting his familiar moustache.



10 Sketches of Limbs and a Portrait of Thomas Griffiths Wainewright [c.1825-1830]

Pencil and black chalk heightened with white on laid paper, 6x8ins (15.2x20.3cm)
Prov: Rolls Album; Colnaghi
London, Private Collection

Holst was an intimate friend of this extraordinary artist and connoisseur from an early age. Thomas Griffiths Wainewright (1794-1847) had been a friend and follower of Henry Fuseli R.A. and Sir Thomas Lawrence P.R.A., a patron of William Blake, exhibitor at the Royal Academy, art-critic of the London Magazine, and was soon to become a multi-murderer and convicted forger. The contrast of this dilettante aesthete and his subsequent infamous history so fascinated Edward Lytton Bulwer, Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde that they wove him into legend and quasi-documentary such that he has become the decadent bête noire of English nineteenth-century culture. Essentially, Wainewright's highly cultured and discriminating aesthetic sense was matched by his equally cynical disregard for the existence of any persons with a latent potential for solving his looming spectre of poverty. Wainewright, as 'a gentleman', pathologically resisted the idea of work but was unfortunately in desperate need of money. He had to maintain a lifestyle to which he knew he was entitled. He therefore despatched three members of his family (and possibly one or two more) with the help of the then undetectable vegetable extract, strychnine. Wainewright's last victim in his own family was his pretty young sister-in-law, Helen Abercrombie, who had previously been one of to Fuseli's models for his depictions of the water-sprite Undine. Under the Wainewrights direction, Helen's life was insured for a total of £16,000 and terminated shortly after payment of the first few premiums. When questioned much later about his reason for this outrageous crime - for which he was never actually charged - he replied, 'Upon my soul, I don't know, unless it was because she had such thick ankles.' In 1837 he was convicted on the lesser charge of forging a cheque on the Bank of England and was sentenced 'for life' to the penal colony at Hobart, Tasmania. Prior to this Holst had reportedly harboured Wainewright from the police, but there is no information to suppose that the young artist suspected any other crime beyond that of debt at the time. Jonathon Curling published his biography of Wainewright, Janus Weathercock, in 1938 and the present sketch has been identified principally by comparison with a self-portrait by Wainewright reproduced as the frontispiece.


21 Courtesan Wielding a Switch [c.1822-1830]

Pencil on laid paper, 10 3/4 x 8 1/4ins (27.2x 21cm)
Inscr. 'T Von Holst'
Prov: Rolls Album; Colnaghi
Lit: Schiff 1965, p.109f, repr pl.116
Oxford, Visitors of the Ashmolean Museum

This is an exact copy of a drawing by Fuseli (fig.33, Schiff 1596) acquired recently by the Gallerie Jan Krugier in Geneva. Gert Schiff used this as a particularly good example of Holst copying Fuseli to illustrate his article on the problems of attribution and authentication concerning the drawings of the latter. There is also some similarity to the stance of Fuseli's earlier 'Eve' (Schiff 1214, 1303), particularly regarding the experimental leg positions, and this in turn may have inspired Holst's Fall from Paradise (fig.9) although his model for Eve appears to be derived from a sculpture of Venus by Vincento Danti (fig.8).


 39 Frankenstein and His Monster (1831)
(Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, V)

Frontispiece steel engraving by W. Chevalier, 9.3x7.1cm
Inscr. in the plate: 'T.Holst, del | W.Chevalier, sculp.' with a quotetation from the novel (given below)
Published for Colburn and Bentley, Standard Novels, 1831
Lit: Schiff, 1963, p.24
London, Pickering and Chatto

Mary Shelley's late gothic novel was first published anonymously in London in 1818. From then until now it has been regarded as sensationally imaginative, prophetic and extraordinarily popular, becoming an icon of "horror" - a man-made man - that has fascinated every age in between and inspired countless derivatives. Holst was the first published illustrator and his two designs accompanied the 1831 edition where where Mary Shelley was identified as the author for the first time. By association with its famous subject, Holst's frontispiece design has appeared in almost every illustrated survey of the Frankenstein cult to have been published and has also been used as a television studio back-drop for the the South Bank Show (LWT, 8 February 1987).

Christopher Small in his Ariel like a Harpy (p.341n.) suggests that Holst's design may have influenced the late German Romantic painting of the Resurrection by Hans Thoma but in fact this appears closer to a design by Blake for Blair's Grave. The medieval gothic setting is reminicent of Holst's earlier etching of Faust in his Study (Cat.47).

Frankenstein, having learned the secret of imparting life into inanimate remains, has just observed the first stirrings of the creature of his creation. The lines illustrated are: 'By the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs, . . . I rushed out of the room.'


58 Satan Playing with Man for his Soul (1847)

Woodcut engraving, 6 3/8x4 3/16' (16.2x11.9cm) after a lost work.
Published, with a memoir and commentary on the design, in The Peoples Journal, 20th February 1847, pp.100ff.
Lit: Vaughan 1979, p.145f. repr pl.70

The reviewer for The Peoples Journal states that Holst's original picture of this composition was painted prior to the publication of Moritz Retzsch's celebrated engraving of this subject in 1836. However Retsch had actually drawn a similar composition in 1827 and the fact that both artists had met in Dresden in 1829, seems to indicate a debt to the older German artist. Holst also exhibited several pictures with a similar daemonic theme towards the end of the 1830's as a review of The Dice and another shown at the Society of British Artists in 1838 indicates:
. . . extraordinary pictures of the satanic school . . . a sprawling Mephistopholes, with every demoniac trait of face and figure exaggerated to the utmost . . . while a fair lady stands overlooking the board, with an untroubled placidity, scarcely less marvelous than the evil one's glassy eyes or terrible grin . . . (The Athenaeum, 31st March 1838, p.241)

It was this kind of wild romanticism that attracted the young Dante Gabriel Rossetti to Holst's work and it may well have been this engraving that is cited in his first letter to Ford Madox Brown the following year: 'The outline . . . constitutes, together with an engraving after that great painter Von Holst, the sole pictorial adornment of my room.' Fuseli elements employed here by Holst include the standing temptress (Schiff 1202/1202a) (Pl.XX) and the legs of Satan's distressed opponent (Schiff 1243) which are very close to those in the watercolour of Auerbach's Tavern in the British Museum (fig.21), as is the general arrangement of the reversed composition which is a favourite of the artist.




74 The Wish 1840 (Colour Pl.9)

Oil on Windsor and Newton canvas, 35 1/2x 27 7/8ins (90x71cm)
Signed on verso 'T. Von. Holst Pinx./1840' with sketches of a face in profile and several hands (canvas now lined)
Prov: Lord Northwick, Thirlstane House Collection sold Phillips, 26/7/1859 (1161) £110-5s, to Joseph Lovegrove FSA, Elton House,Gloucester then Christies Sale, 31/3/1883
Lit: Thirlstane House catalogue 1843, (2nd ed.) 1846; Gilchrist 1863 (Rossetti Supplementary) p.380; Browne 1978, p.88f. repr pl.42
London, Private Collection

An appraisal of this important picture, by the present compiler, was published in the Burlington Magazine in February 1978. It effectively confirms the link of influence, first suggested by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, of Holst as 'one of the few connecting links between the earlier and sound period of English colour and method in painting, and that revival of which so many signs have in late years been apparent'; in essence a bridge from the earlier English painters such as Fuseli, Blake and Lawrence to that of the Pre-Raphaelites.

Rossetti himself completes the link by recalling that 'Specimens from his hand existed in the late Northwick Collection, now dispersed', which is where he must have seen the pictorial source for his first widely published poem, The Card Dealer: or, Vingt-Et-Un. From A Picture of 1852 (see Fig.37 below). The strong penchant of Rossetti for drawing subjects of the supernatural and fantastic are well documented, but Holst's tendency to extend his designs for these disturbing subjects - by authors such as Goethe, Hoffmann and Von Chamisso - onto canvas for exhibition is the almost universally quoted reason for his scant recogition by the public. However the succes of The Wish, and the other centrally placed female subjects, demonstrates that Holst's new found confidence and firmness of form in the 1840s had, at last, provided him with a highly succesful pictorial formula that was much appreciated by the remaining aristocratic collectors of the day.

The attractive, oval-faced prototype for the female subject is found in several sketches by Holst (see Cat.5) and may well be the artist's wife, the twenty year old Amelia Thomasina Symmes-Villard, whom he married the following year. A striking chiaroscuro induces a disturbing, almost menacing quality to this characteristically placed central figure, enhanced by the lurid red glow emanating from behind her and the strong light source, from her left, which serves to accentuate both her bosom and the action of her hands against the contrasting darkness of the rest of the scene. The paint has been confidently applied, layer by layer over a dark base, to produce the rich blend of colour and sparkling depth in small details that were the kind of features admired by the Pre-Raphaelites and the reason why they gathered to meet in a particular West End restaurant 'as it was hung around with pictures by Theodore Von Holst.' It is noticeable that Millais in his small panel The Bridesmaid (fig.31) of 1851 owes a considerable debt to Holst for this prototype.


Fig.37 Rossetti's poem The Card Dealer

The Athenæum, Saturday 23 October 1852.


Ambition, Cupidité,
Et délicieuse Volupté,
Sont les soeurs de la Destinée,
Après la vingt-première année.

Calendrier de la Vie, 1630.


Could you not drink her gaze like wine ?
Yet, through their splendour swoon
Into the lamplight languidly
As a tune into a tune
Those eyes are wide and clear, as if
They saw the stars at noon.

The gold that's heaped beside her hand,
In truth rich prize it were;
And rich the dreams that wreath her brows
With magic silence there;
And he were rich who should unwind
That woven golden hair.

Some music surely fans the sense,
A breath like closing plumes:
You know it by the spark called up
From her eyes' purple glooms;
You almost feel the instant thrill
Pulse the lighted rooms.

And surely, where she sits, the dance
Now pants its eager heat:
But not more lightly or more true
Fall there the dancers' feet,
Then fall her cards upon the board
As 'twere a heart that beat.

Her fingers let them through,-
Smooth, polished, silent things;
And each one, as it falls, reflects,
In swift light-shadowings,
Crimson and orange, green and blue,
The great eyes of her rings.

Whom plays she with ?-With thee: thou lov'st
Those gems upon her hand.
With me: I search her secret will.
All deem her bosom grand.
We play together, she and we,
Within a vain strange land:-

A land without any order,
Whose substance is as breath:
Where one lying down ariseth not
Nor the sleeper awakeneth;
A land of darkness, as darkness itself,
And of the shadow of death.

What be her cards, you ask ? Even these:-
The heart, that does but crave
More, being fed: the diamond,
Skilled to make base seem brave;
The club, for smiting in the dark;
The spade, to dig a grave.

And do you ask, what game she plays ?
With him, 'tis lost or won:
With him it is playing still; with him,
It is not yet begun;
But 'tis a game she plays with all
The game of Twenty-One.


* The picture is one painted by the late Theodore von Holst and represents a beautiful woman, richly dressed, who is sitting at a lamp-lit table, dealing out cards, with a peculiar fixedness of expression.


75 The Bride 1842 (Colour Pl.10)
(Shelley, Ginevra, 9-12)

Oil on Windsor and Newton canvas, 35 1/2x27 1/2ins (90x70cm)
Signed on verso 'T Von Holst/1842' with an outline sketch of two male figures
Prov: Duchess of Sutherland, Stafford Collection; Miss Susannah Newbould, Bolebrook Castle, sold Christie's, 10th October 1969, lot 93, to Gray for 290 gns. (also sold to this buyer was Holst's Portrait of Beethoven, lot 91, for 90 gns., now in the Kennedy Center, Washington) and thence to a private collection
Exh: London, British Institution 1842 (121) with the quote 'Ginevra from the nuptial altar went, etc. Shelley'
Lit: Gilchrist 1863 (Rossetti Supplementary), p.380; Schiff 1963, p.31 (unseen); Browne 1978, p.91. repr pl.44
England, Private Collection

This was Holst's most popular picture and three versions are now known to exist. A previous experimental version (fig.26), somewhat poorly restored, has recently emerged (Christie's, 7-4-1993, lot147)and, intriquingly, is signed and dated the previous year but does not appear to be fine enough for either sale or exhibition by the artist. The present 'Stafford version' was purchased by the Duchess of Sutherland at the British Institution Exhibition in 1842. It was so admired by the 3rd Marquess of Landsowne that he persuaded Holst to make him another, larger, version (fig.28) that was to hang solus in the breakfast-room of his magnificent house in Berkeley Square which contained his celebrated collection.

In his Supplementary to Gilchrist's posthumous Life of William Blake, published in 1863, Dante Gabriel Rossetti recollected a few years earlier seeing the present version: 'A most beautiful work by him - a female head or half figure-among the pictures at Stafford House.' At about the same time as contributing this appraisal of Holst for Gilchrist, Rossett painted his equally exquisite Girl at a Lattice (fig.29; Surtees no.152), which displays many simularities to The Bride. The fine finish, bright fresco-like guilding and literary theme of Holst's picture must also have appealed to other members of the Pre-Raphaelite circle. Millais, who was certainly familiar with Holst's work, also executed several works that show a debt to the earlier artist and among them is his small panel of The Bride, of 1858. The sitter for this was said to be the beautiful Lady Waterford, an accomplished artist herself, who may even have met Holst during her social and artistic rounds prior to her marriage. A small darkly romantic watercolour by her, of a bearded-man reminiscent of Holst, is in the author's collection.

Brian Sewell has pointed out the influence of Italian Renaissance portraiture on the present work, such as Raphael's Maddalena Doni and the later derivations by the Dutch realists and German romantics. In a somewhat ambiguous circle of influence the attitude and expression of Holst's subject also bears some similarity to Leonardo's portrait of Ginevra De' Benci whose own unhappy marriage is well documented, but the Ginevra of Shelley's poem is a figure altogether more tragic and dramatic, so much so that, as Gert Schiff has pointed out, Holst found the tale compelling enough to illustrate it at several times in his career. It is the story of a young Florentine girl who is reluctantly to be married to an aged nobleman. After the wedding ceremony she takes leave of her young lover for the last time (depicted in Cat.26), and finally, as the guests assemble at the banquet, her husband finds her dead on her bridal bed. The illustrated lines occur earlier:

Ginevra from the nuptial altar went,
The vows to which her lips had sworn assent
Rung in her brain still with a jarring din,
Deafening the lost intelligence within.

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