Frank Holl, artist
Source: Magazine of Art 11 (1888): 413
“The Kepplestone Collection. By Kind permission of Mrs. Alexander Macdonald”
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M. H. Spielmann's article, which accompanied the portrait
Not within living memory has the Royal Academy — or, more broadly speaking, has British Art — suffered a more serious loss, or received a more cruel blow, than has been inflicted by the death of Frank Holl, who died, not without warning, from an affection of the heart on the 31st of July. Greater artists have been reckoned within the ranks of the Academy, and public sympathy at their death has ere now been more ostentatiously shown. But in those cases, from Reynolds to Turner and Landseer, their work was done. Had they lived, nothing greater than what they had already produced would have issued from their brushes. But Holl has died in the fulness of his power, at the early age of forty-three, having achieved great things, it is true, but with the highest objects of his ambition unattempted. Like Paul Potter, like Henri Regnault, and the whole army of young men whom the Angel of Death has snatched from the Genius of Art, his reputation will of necessity rest upon his performance; but those of us who knew his hopes and his aims, and, perhaps, owing to our personal knowledge of the man, are better able to form an estimate of his powers — we prefer to judge him by what we think he would have done, rather than by what he actually accomplished.
Seeing that a biographical notice of the deceased artist's career has already appeared in The Magazine of Art, it is unnecessary to give here but the briefest abstract of the chief events of his artistic life. This story of his life, however, Mr. Holl had promised me to re-tell himself at a future time, and in a much more extended form in these pages, accompanying it with some of the many interesting anecdotes and experiences that go to make up the lights and shadows of a painter's life. This project has now been cut off with the rest.
Born in London in 1845, his father being Francis Holl, A.R.A., the engraver, Frank Holl obtained admission to the Royal Academy Schools when only fifteen years of age. Four years later he saw his first picture, "Turned out of Church," well hung on the Academy walls. A busy time followed; "Fern Gatherers," "The Ordeal," and "The Convalescent" (or "Getting Better") — the latter a sympathetic rendering of beautiful childhood, rich and subtle in colour — appearing up to 1807. In 1869 "The Lord Gave and the Lord hath Taken Away" attracted the notice of the Queen, who, failing in her attempt to become its possessor, commissioned Mr. Holl to paint another picture for her — "No Tidings from the Sea," exhibited in 1871. The next work that attracted general attention was "I am the Resurrection and the Life." How many of those who attended the artist's own funeral service at St. Peter's Church, Belsize Park, on the 7th of August last, turned their sad thoughts to that early picture, I wonder, as they heard the words? The year 1873 was a momentous one for the artist, for it saw his first attempt at portraiture, and, as a consequence, his complete divorce from subject-painting. This first portrait was his "Samuel Cousins, R.A.," which, by its character and expression, and its Rembrandtesque power of handling, elicited such loud applause, that he was thereafter overwhelmed with commissions.Perhaps the best known and the most favourable example of Frank Holl's later art is his recent portrait of Lord Spencer. It will doubtless be considered the artist's masterpiece, as although not quite what he was capable of in the matter of technique, it is one of the most truthful, the most manly, vigorous, and subtle of all his portraits; being wanting, moreover, in that rather exaggerated contrast of light and shade with which — studio-light aiding — he often invested the faces of his sitters. It constitutes, in short, the nearest approach in point of conception, execution, and feel- ing, to the works of his idol, Velasquez; retaining always his own unmistakable individuality of style and method.
A strong leaning towards sad and even more sombre subjects characterised all Frank Holl's subjects. Pathetic or tragic in his work, but never morbid; tender, but never maudlin; religious, earnest, and serious, but never bigoted or ascetic; he was manly, robust, and vigorous in all his doings. He was a cheerful companion, intelligent and intellectual, genial and kindly, courteous, honest, and warm-hearted; and, as such, universally beloved by his comjianions and rivals in art. To the esteem in which he was held the immense gathering of mourners that assembled around his grave in Highgate Cemetery sufficiently attested; for, while the brilliance of his talent and the amiability of his nature attracted many acquaintances, the modesty of his disposition and his kindliness of heart retained them all as friends. His nature, like his work, was essentially English; but he fell a victim to that intense con- stitutional energy and application, which, try as he might to resist them, eventually brought him to a premature death.
Spielmann, M. H.. “The Late Frank Holl.” Magazine of Art. 11 (November 1887-October 1888): 412-13. Internet Archive version of a copy in the University of Toronto Library. Web. 8 September 2013.
Last modified 10 September 2013