Eric Holt was a draughtsman and painter, who worked mainly in tempera. A slow, meticulous and self-critical artist, he became best known for his highly-wrought figure compositions, including Biblical scenes in modern dress, which led some critics to describe him as a talented follower of Stanley Spencer. Having a strong interest in the countryside, and its crafts and pursuits, he also produced scenes of country and suburban life, and some pure landscapes. His work invariably displays a strong sense of design, vivid characterisation and elements of the surreal. Born in Sutton, Surrey, on 12 May 1944, Eric Holt was half-brother to the painter, Ronnie Copas (1936-2017). From as early as the age of 13, he was focussing on art by taking a special course at Sutton East School.
In 1959, at the age of 15, he went to Epsom and Ewell School of Art, and studied for three years under Eric Rodway and Leslie Worth. However, his move to Wimbledon School of Art in 1962 proved less of a success, and he left at the end of the first term. As a result, he took the first of a series of jobs to help him make ends meet and – following his marriage to Sandra Wrightson in 1964, with whom he had two children – to help support his family. These jobs included a groundsman on a caravan site, a van driver, a factory worker and a labourer, digging tunnels for a firm of civil engineers. On being made redundant, he took work making furniture at Portobello Studios, Portobello Road, London. From there he moved on to glass painting and antique restoration. Through the 1960s, he had managed to complete only two pictures a year, but his work as a restorer revived his interest in painting.
In 1969, Holt and his family moved to 17 High Street, Purley, Surrey. Two years later, he began to exhibit regularly at the Royal Academy of Arts, and his work there met with a highly positive response from both the public and dealers. In 1972, he held his first solo show at the Maltzahn Gallery in Cork Street, London, and another at the same venue in 1974. Following the closure of the Maltzahn Gallery, he moved to the Piccadilly Gallery, and held five solo shows there between 1977 and 1993.
In 1978, Holt and his family left Surrey for Norfolk and bought a cottage near Sandringham. There he developed his passion for organic gardening, which informed his depiction of trees and flowers in his paintings. In addition to his solo shows at the Piccadilly Gallery and his contributions to the RA and the RBA, he showed work at the Tolly Cobbold-Eastern Arts National Exhibition in 1980 and 1985. He also won a prize at ‘The World of Newspaper’, held at Sotheby’s, London, in 1982, and was prizewinner of the Royal Academy Annual Christmas Card Competition in 1985.
Though Holt contracted cancer of the brain, he continued to work until his death early in 1997.