Frank HollÂ’s moving depiction of a foundling being carried by a policeman has its origins in a true story.

The artist was walking around the east London docks one day when he came across a similar scene and used it as inspiration for this picture. Holl, who trained at the Royal Academy Schools, became a leading figure in Victorian art, celebrated for his paintings of rural and urban poverty. In 1870 Queen Victoria commissioned him to paint the hard life of the fishing community in Cullercoats. Later he was known for his portraits of eminent figures, including a memorable likeness of Gladstone. He died in 1888, aged just 43. Holl first turned the story of the abandoned baby into a drawing, published as an engraving in The Graphic magazine in 1873. He heightened the emotion of the original scene by adding the figure of the distraught mother on the right. Among the admirers of the engraving was Van Gogh, who wrote in a letter that it ‘moved me so deeply’. Holl later turned the drawing into a full-scale painting, for which this is the oil sketch. The Mercer Art Gallery recently collaborated with the Watts Gallery in Surrey to stage the first exhibition of Holl’s work since 1889. This Study for Deserted – The Foundling now joins a print of the subject in the Mercer’s collection, alongside a strong collection of work by other Victorian genre painters.


By inheritance to artist's wife Annie; sold Christie's, London 1963; Mr Preston, Lincolnshire; sold Morphets of Harrogate, March 2015 where acquired by Maas Gallery.

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