Exhibition preview: Frank Holl: Emerging from the Shadows, Watts Gallery, Compton, June 18 – November 3 2013
Frank Holl’s death in 1888, at the age of 43, was a premature one for one of the finest Victorian artists.
© HM Queen Elizabeth II 2012
Holl's portraits of loss and death earned him eminence and a commission from Queen Victoria, who asked Holl to paint the poor fishing village of Cullercoats in a snapshot of a hard-working community.
Around 30 of his works appear at the Watts, which has worked with the National Portrait Gallery and Harrogate’s Mercer Art Gallery on this show. They range from dutiful seamstresses and gloomy trials to the work which earned him a Royal Academy Scholarship (The Lord Gave and the Lord Hath Taketh) and the funereal (I am the Resurrection and the Life).
Born in London to a family of engravers, Holl’s award from the Academy gave him the chance to tour Europe. But he ultimately resigned the accolade after deciding to return north, having become infatuated with the likes of Rembrandt and Rubens in Antwerp.
Whistler and Van Gogh collected his prints from The Graphic, which he contributed to from 1872 onwards, and his growing reputation was symbolised by the medal he received at the American Centenary Exhibition of 1876.
His popularity, though, contributed to his death from exhaustion. Holl had turned to portraiture during the 1880s, driven by the financial demands of his family, studio and house in Surrey.
The link with the Watts runs further – when GF Watts withdrew from a commission to paint Prince Edwards, he suggested Holl as the man for the job. This is also a first major retrospective for an artist honoured with two dedicated rooms at the Old Masters’ exhibition at the Academy in the year following his death.
- Open 11am-5pm (1pm-5pm Sunday, closed Monday except Bank Holiday). Admission £8.50/£3.75 (free for under-16s, all tickets £4.25 on Tuesday). Follow the gallery on Twitter @wattsgallery.
© Royal Holloway, University of London
© Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter
© Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London