The Tate's Gothic Nightmares exhibition, 2006

After more than a century and a half Holst has, at last, been given due public recognition. The vehicle for this was Tate Britain's inspired Gothic Nightmares exhibition, 15 February- 1May, 2006, which included 6 paintings, drawings and prints by, or after, the artist out of a total of 157 exhibits. Only Fuseli, Blake and Gillray could boast more. The curator we have to thank for this is Martin Myrone whose excellent curatorial debut in this field shone much needed limelight on Holst whose work Martin recognised as a key bridge of style and content from the18th to the 19th century Romantic artists. Martin became aware of Holst's significant contribution after visiting the London exhibition, at Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, in 1994 and took advantage of the recent Zurich acquisition of their large canvas, Bertalda frightened by Apparitions (c.1831) by hanging it next to the smaller painting of the same subject bought by Cheltenham Art Gallery in 1996 - an interesting juxtaposition. Both show a customary stylistic debt to Fuseli with the former displaying more mature painterly skill and monumentalality of form and the latter youthful exuberance and fancy.

The other works by Holst were his two first published illustrations to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, in Colburn's 1831 edition, two watercolours of a more erotic nature (one of known questionable authorship) and his only known sketchbook which once belonged to Rossetti and his the sculptor friend Alexander Munro (1825-71) in whose family collection it has remained. It was displayed open at a characteristic page of figure sketches featuring a 'skeletal bride' and contains over fifty pages of characteristic and striking motifs and significant subject and biographical notes: a worthwhile project for future research (shown again at the Holst bicentenary exhibition in Cheltenham in 2010 it is also the principle topic of an article by Max Browne in New evidence of Rossetti's admiration for von Holst, in the British Art Journal, 2011, no.4).

Holst's works at the exhibition

Much of the exhibition's powerful Fuseli content was derived from the more traditional retrospective of Holst's great master held just prior to this at the Zurich, Kunsthaus.¨›It set the tone and seminal theme for a fascinating tour of Gothic visual fantasy through to its modern manifestation in cinema horror. The catalogue is another exemplary Tate publication both in content and illustration and breaks new ground in widening the curtains on this neglected aspect of British Romanticsm.

Gothic Nightmares: Fuseli, Blake and the Romantic Imagination

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