According to his obituary in the Art-Union, Theodor von Holst was employed by Sir Thomas Lawrence, President of the Royal Academy, to provide erotic drawings for King George IV, ‘and these were of a class that a youth with very limited means may have been tempted to execute; but the subjects selected were little to the credit of the President or his Royal employer’.
This youthful drawing by Holst (circa 1824-30) shows the strong influence of his master Henry Fuseli. In erotic content and stylistic detail, such as the elongated neck and elaborate hairstyle of the young courtesan portrayed here, Holst imitates, perhaps even copies, the private obsessions of his RA professor but with a softer, more sensual execution. Such a bold centrally placed figure is a favourite of the artist, one which can be seen repeatedly in his oeuvre and most potently in his later, more highly finished, portraits of romanticised women that Dante Gabriel Rossetti so admired and was later to develop into his own ‘sensual stunners’.
One of Holst’s closest friends was the notorious forger, poisoner, writer and fellow Fuseli disciple, Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, who also produced similar work and reportedly possessed a private portfolio of ‘exquisite delineations of the female human form’. All three artists contributed to this fascinating backwater of Georgian draughtsmanship, which will, no doubt, take some time to fully emerge.
Note by Max Browne