|Born||Francis Montague Holl
4 July 1845
|Died||31 July 1888(aged 43)|
|Education||University College School|
|Parents||Francis Holl (father)|
He was from a family of noted engravers, being the son of Francis Holl, ARA, as well as a nephew of William Holl the Younger and a grandson of William Holl the Elder, whose profession he originally intended to follow. Entering the Royal Academy schools as a probationer in painting in 1860, he rapidly progressed, winning silver and gold medals, and making his debut as an exhibitor in 1864 with A Portrait, and Turned out of Church, a subject picture. A Fern Gatherer (1865); The Ordeal (1866); Convalescent (the somewhat grim pathos of which attracted much attention), and Faces in the Fire (1867), succeeded. Holl gained the travelling studentship in 1868; the successful work was characteristic of the young painter's mood, being The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away.
His insatiable zeal for work of all kinds began early to undermine the artist's health, but his position was assured by the studentship picture, which created a sort of furore, although, as with most of his works, the blackness of its colouration, probably due to his training as an engraver, was even more decidedly against it than the sadness of its theme. Otherwise, this painting exhibited nearly all the best technical qualities to which he ever attained, except high finish and clearness, and a very sincere vein of pathos.
Holl was much below Millais in portraiture, and far inferior in all the higher ways of design; in technical resources, relatively speaking, he was but scantily provided. The range of his studies and the manner of his painting were narrower than those of Jozef Israëls, with whom, except as a portrait-painter, he may better be compared than with Millais. In 1870 he painted Better is a Dinner of Herbs where Love is, than a Stalled Ox and Hatred therewith; No Tidings from the Sea, a scene in a fisherman's cottage, in 1871—a story told with breath-catching pathos and power; I am the Resurrection and the Life (1872); Leaving Home (1873), Deserted (1874), both of which had great success; Her First-born, girls carrying a baby to the grave (1876); and Going Home (1877).
Van Gogh was a great lover of Holl's works and wrote enthusiastically to his brother Theo about them.
In 1877 he painted the two pictures Hush and Hushed. Newgate, Committed for Trial, a very sad and telling piece, first attested the breaking down of the painter's health in 1878. In this year he was elected ARA, and exhibited The Gifts of the Fairies, The Daughter of the House, Absconded, and a very fine portrait of Samuel Cousins, the mezzotint engraver. This last canvas is a masterpiece, and deserved the success which attended the print engraved from it.
Holl was overwhelmed with commissions, which he would not decline. The consequences of this strain upon a constitution which was never strong were more or less, though unequally, manifest in Ordered to the Front, a soldier's departure (1880); Home Again, its sequel, in 1883 (after which he was made Royal Academician). In 1886 he produced a portrait of Millais as his diploma work, but his health rapidly declined and he died at Hampstead, on 31 July 1888.
Holl's better portraits, being of men of rare importance, attest the commanding position he occupied in the branch of art he so unflinchingly followed. They include likenesses of Lord Roberts, painted for Queen Victoria (1882); the Prince of Wales, Lord Dufferin, the Duke of Cleveland (1885); Lord Overstone, Mr Bright, Mr Gladstone, Mr Chamberlain, Sir J Tenniel, Earl Spencer, Viscount Cranbrook, and a score of other important subjects.
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