This work was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1880. It was painted to mark the end of George Graham’s term as Registrar General the previous year and was presented to the sitter on his retirement. When ‘The Graphic’ reviewed the 1880 Royal Academy exhibition particular attention was paid to this work and another portrait by Holl, depicting gas industrialist and lawyer Simon Adams Beck (1803-1883). The two portraits were praised for displaying: ‘…a rare power, not only of seizing the salient traits of his sitters, but of realising their essential character as far as it is impressed on their outward features.’
Frank Holl was born in London; the son of engraver Francis Holl. He entered the Royal Academy Schools at 15. In 1869 he was awarded a travelling scholarship but abandoned his travels after a month. After his return, Queen Victoria commissioned ‘No Tidings from the Sea’ (1871). Holl continued to paint similarly melancholy subjects. He also made some 20 illustrations for ‘The Graphic’ (1872-83), along with Luke Fildes and Hubert von Herkomer. Together they became part of an informal school, interested in social realism. Late in his career, Holl turned to portraiture, producing 197 portraits in just nine years. His productivity and success brought him wealth but may also have contributed to the heart disease which led to his death, aged 43.
George Graham (1801-1888) Registrar General (1842-1879)
Oil on canvas
height: 138.50 cm, width: 112.50 cm
Purchased from Christie's, 20 December 1957
br: Frank Holl / 1880
Presented to the sitter at the Freemasons' Tavern, London, on 19 March 1880 by Mr. Beckwith, of Leeds, on behalf of the Central Registration Department, upon the retirement of the sitter as Registrar General; collection of Mrs Patrick Poer O’Shee; by whom sold through Christie's, London, 20 December 1957 (Lot 22) for £6.6.0; from which sale purchased by Richard Walker on behalf of the Ministry of Works
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