paradox-ethereal-issue-13-61“Concentrated loveliness”

English historical genre and landscape painter, stained glass designer, illustrator and sculptor  (1839 – 1927)

Henry Holiday (17 June 1839 – 15 April 1927) was an English historical genre and landscape painter, stained glass designer, illustrator and sculptor. He was a member of the Pre-Raphaelite school of art. Although best known for his decorative designs for Powells’ stained glass, Holiday was one of the most versatile of Victorian artists, producing beautiful works of art over a career of almost seventy years; often choosing classical subjects for his intricately painted watercolors.

Henry Holiday was born in London, from an early age he loved art and showed an aptitude which resulted in his family deciding to hire William Cave Thomas as an art teacher. Holiday later attended Leigh’s Art Academy and in 1855, at the age of 15, was admitted to the Royal Academy. worked in both oils and watercolours.

Holiday’s friendship with Albert Moore and Simeon Solomon led to the introduction to Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris. The influence of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood played a very important role in his development as an artist as well as in his political ideas. Holiday particularly enjoyed the company of Sir Edward Burne-Jones, and spent a lot of time in his studio, where he met a lot of artists and indulged in exchanging ideas. Sir Edward Burne-Jones was a major influence for Holiday, something apparent in his work.

It was in 1855 that Holiday visited the Lake District, the area impressed him and never stopped paying a visit to sketch the beauty of nature. He wrote, “For concentrated loveliness, I know nothing that can quite compare with the lakes and mountains of Westmorland, Cumberland and Lancashire.”

It is worth mentioning that the Royal Academy judges were prejudiced against all works done directly from the motif. Nevertheless, all through his career, Holiday sketched and painted landscape, on occasions and as seen in the painting Artemis, for instance, using such subjects as backgrounds to figure subjects.

Holiday wrote in his Reminiscences of my Life about the painting Artemis, “the painting was strictly a Hampstead picture. The face was painted from our friend and neighbour, Mrs Gilbert Scott, whose son [Giles Gilbert Scott] (not then born) is now building Liverpool Cathedral. The staghound was our own dog, and the wood was painted in the glade, just outside our garden.”

In 1857 he competed for the Turner gold medal for landscape painting, the set subject for which that year was simply “An English Landscape”, while in 1858, his first picture was exhibited at the Royal Academy and was immediately sold. This was just the beginning. His work started appearing in The Academy and several respected galleries ever since.

Wagner was one his major influences, as proved by the painting “The Rhine Maidens”, 1879, which was taken from Wagner’s opera, Das Rheingold. Quite imaginative as he was, he modelled the 3 Rhine maidens in clay and placed them in a tank of blue-green tinted water together with clay “rocks, so as to visualise them.

What he never stopped doing was studying and carrying on meticulous research in an effort to improve his work. For instance, in 1867, he travelled to Florence to make studies and improve his architectural features, also creating rough clay models of some of the buildings to set the scene. He was inspired by the originality of the Renaissance artists. Holiday also did some sculpture, in 1861 producing a piece called “Sleep” which attracted favourable critical interest.

In 1861, Holiday accepted the job of stained glass window designer for Powell’s Glass Works – after Burne-Jones had left to work for Morris & Co. During his time there he fulfilled over 300 commissions, mostly for customers in the USA. He left in 1891 to set up his own glass works in Hampstead, producing stained glass, mosaics, enamels and sacerdotal objects.

Holiday’s stained glass work can be found all over Britain but some of his best is at the chapel of Worcester College, Oxford (1865), Westminster Abbey (the Isambard Kingdom Brunel memorial window, 1868), St. Luke’s church in Kentish Town and St Mary Magdalene, Paddington (1869).

Holiday worked for architect William Burges for a period, including providing wall and ceiling paintings for Worcester College, Oxford (1863–64) and furniture paintings – including “Sleeping beauty” for the headboard in the bedroom of Burges’s home The Tower House itself. The “Sleeping Beauty” bed is now in the collection of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery & Bedford Museum. Holiday has four oil paintings in British national public collections.

In October 1864, Holiday married Catherine Raven, a talented embroiderer who worked for Morris & Co. They had one daughter, Winifred. The couple went to Italy and on their return to England he commissioned architect Basil Champneys to design a new family home in Branch Hill, Hampstead, which was named “Oak Tree House”. In 1907-08, he commissioned the building of a holiday home, Betty Fold in his favourite part of the Lake District. Holiday had been a socialist throughout his life and, together with his wife Kate and daughter Winifred, supported the Suffragette movement. The family were close acquaintances of Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter and had organised local Suffragette meetings in the Lake District.

In January 1874, Holiday was commissioned by Lewis Carroll to illustrate The Hunting of the Snark. He remained friends with the author throughout his life. Rhyme? And reason?, by Lewis Carroll, was also illustrated with sixty-five illustrations by Arthur B. Frost and nine by Henry Holiday. Mr. H. Holiday, in a very interesting article on “The Snark’s Significance” (Academy, January 29, 1898), quoted the inscription which Mr. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (the real name of Lewis Carroll) had written in a vellum-bound, presentation-copy of the book: ”Presented to Henry Holiday, most patient of artists, by Charles L. Dodgson, most exacting, but not most ungrateful of authors, March 29, 1876.”

In 1907, Holiday went to Egypt, painting a series of watercolours and illustrations on ancient Egyptian themes. These were exhibited at “Walker’s Gallery”, London, in March 1908.

Holiday died on 15 April 1927 in London, two years after his wife, Kate. He remains best known for his ‘Dante and Beatrice’ exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1883, and now in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.


Holiday, Henry. Stained glass as an art (1896)
Holiday, Henry. Art and Individualism (1903)
Holiday, Henry. Reminiscences of My Life (Heinemann London, 1914).
Carroll, Lewis. The Hunting of the Snark an Agony, in Eight Fits(London: MacMillan & Co., 1876)

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