Holl, Francis (1815-1884)

Holl, Francis (1815-1884)
Holl, Francis (1815-1884)

Fashionably favoured and exquisitely talented engraver Francis Holl transformed works of art into eloquent engraved prints. His talents were much desired in Victorian Britain, making him one of the most prominent engravers of his time.

Engraving ran in Holl’s blood. He received tutelage in the art from his father, William Holl the Elder (1771-1838), a successful engraver in his own right. His brother, William Holl the Younger (1807-1871) was also an engraver. Clearly Holl grew up in an environment which pulsed with a great energy towards the craft of engraving, and the rich fruits of the seeds sown by his father within Holl would reap a great reward.

Engravings were particularly desired for offering reproductions of works of art which therefore made it easier for larger numbers to view those works of art. Engravings would be printed and re-printed in publications and disseminated widely. Holl began to make a name for himself reproducing works by artists such as William Powell Frith (1819-1909) and George Richmond (1809-1896).

The role of an engraver was not just to copy a work of art, but to translate it through the very intricate and painstaking process they would undertake. Holl’s involved marking a metal sheet with both lines and small dots, known as stipples, to slowly build up an image over time. This would then be printed with ink upon paper, creating the image. In black and white, Holl would have to communicate the diffusions of light, the shadows formed, and shade summoned in technicolour pieces. This he did with ‘great artistic force’ and ‘great truth and refinement,’ as critics would praise. An extremely careful hand conjures Firth’s image of a railway station. Each figure is defined, no experience of human life in the hustle and bustle lost to a lack of coherency on Holl’s part. Both the energy of the piece and the great compositional execution of the arched, looming roof of the station are preserved.

Holl transcended art into another form by the sheer demonstration of skill in his medium. This did not go unnoticed, and throughout his life he was busily employed to transform numerous works by numerous artists. So celebrated was he that he exhibited 20 engravings at the Royal Academy, as well as being elected an associate member. The Royal Academy had long held the judgemental view that engraving was not as worthy an art form as any other, therefore Holl’s appointment is incredibly significant.

Holl was not only celebrated publicly but also royally. For 25 years he was employed by Queen Victoria to produce engravings from portraits of the royal family. The majority of these remained private, however the Queen did request he publish prints of her husband, Prince Albert, upon his death in 1861. Holl’s works were clearly of great enough quality to be warranted as suitable for the remembrance of a much-beloved husband and Prince Consort.

As well as his dedicated engraving work, Holl’s participation in artistic life in the 19th century stretched further. He found enjoyment in acting, often playing a comedic role. He starred in plays put on for the Artists’ General Benevolent Fund, which raised money to support struggling artists and their families.

Holl’s legacy extends beyond his own works. His son, Frank Holl (1845-1888), was an extremely celebrated painter, becoming a member of the Royal Academy and as in demand in paints and canvas as his father was in ink and paper. A portrait of Holl by his son now resides in the National Portrait Gallery, the elder captured reflectively, pensive and esteemed.

Today, the engravings so painstakingly completed for Queen Victoria are in the care of the Royal Collection Trust.


Born in Camden Town, London.


Married Alicia Margaret Dixon.


Exhibited frequently at the Royal Academy.


Appointed an associate of the Royal Academy.


Died in Milford, Surrey, Britain. Buried in Highgate Cemetery.

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