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Theodor von Holst (1810-1844)

Theodor Richard Edward von Holst (1810-1844)

Developing his fascination with the supernatural and erotic, Theodor von Holst became the most prolific English painter-illustrator of German romance.

Theodor von Holst was born in London on 3 September 1810, his parents having emigrated from Riga to flee the troubles created by the Napoleonic wars. The family was very musical, Holst’s father being a composer and professor of music (while his great-nephew was the composer, Gustav Holst).

Holst’s precocious artistic talents were recognised by 1820, when Sir Thomas Lawrence bought a drawing from him, and Henry Fuseli became a family friend. He soon proved Fuseli’s favourite disciple and, after copying from the antique at the British Museum, became his formal pupil at the Royal Academy Schools during 1824, the last year of Fuseli’s life. As a result of this experience, he befriended the artist – and infamous poisoner – Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, who was also a pupil of Fuseli. The influence of Fuseli remained with him throughout his short career, though his work tends to be more highly coloured.

Like Fuseli, Holst was inspired by bizarre and fantastic literary subjects, especially the tales of E T A Hoffmann, Le Motte Fouqué’s Undine and Goethe’s Faust.

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