Frank Holl: Emerging From The Shadows


Frank Holl: Emerging from the Shadows represents this eminent Victorian artist’s first major retrospective in over 100 years.

The 1889 Royal Academy Winter Exhibition featured a dedicated display in honor of the late artist Frank Holl. It showcased a selection of his works.

Holl, who passed away at forty-three, was highly esteemed. The exhibition garnered significant support from lenders, including Queen Victoria, William Agnew, and Henry Tate.

William Powell Frith, responsible for selecting the paintings, highlighted the widespread backing for Holl in obtaining loans from various owners.

From winning accolades at the Royal Academy to his debut in the 1864 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, he earned recognition from both critics and fellow artists. In a letter to J.A.M. Whistler in 1880, Lithographer Thomas Way praised Holl’s work at the Grosvenor Gallery exhibition, noting his strength surpassing Millais.

Holl’s social-realist drawings later adapted into wood engravings for The Graphic, garnered widespread acclaim. Vincent van Gogh collected these drawings, expressing his admiration in a letter to Anthon van Rappard in 1883. he said,

‘Nonetheless, I can’t resist mentioning a few prints that are absolutely matchless. For example, The foundling by Frank Holl … Then there’s a funeral, also by him, several people going into a churchyard, beautiful in sentiment. He calls that print: I am the Resurrection and the Life.’

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Legacy and Recognition: The Posthumous Fate of Frank Holl

Following Holl’s death, his prominence waned, marked by establishing the Frank Holl Memorial Fund in 1889.

The fund aimed to acquire significant work for national collections and erect a large monument in St Paul’s Cathedral.

Disappointingly, the subscriptions closed in June with only £600 raised, preventing the original plan of purchasing one of his paintings for the National Gallery.

Holl’s untimely demise, during a transformative period in the art world, has largely deprived him of rightful recognition as a leading portraitist alongside John Everett Millais and George Frederic Watts.

Additionally, he is overlooked as the most compelling Victorian painter of social realism.

Explore Holl’s Art: View a Selection of His Portraits and Narrative Paintings on Our website for More Information about the Book.

Frank Holl, Seamstresses, c.1875, oil on canvas
Frank Holl, Seamstresses, c.1875, oil on canvas
self portrait
Frank Holl, Self-Portrait, 1863, oil on canvas
Frank Holl, Newgate, Committed for Trial
Frank Holl, Her Firstborn, Horsham Churchyard

Vincent van Gogh, Letter 304, ‘To Anthon van Rappard. The Hague, on or about Thursday, 25 January 1883’. Three works by Holl preserved in Van Gogh’s estate all came from The Graphic (1872–3).

Frank Holl: Emerging from the Shadows is out now, while the exhibition the book accompanies opens at the Watts Gallery today and runs until 3rd November.

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