Autographed letter from Gustav Holst to Herbert Lambert.

Item author: Gustav Holst (1874-1934)
Item date: 1923
Grant Value: £500
Item cost: £500
Item date acquired: 2021
Item institution: Holst Victorian House
Town/City: Cheltenham
County: Gloucestershire

Laura Kinnear, Curator, writes: Gustav Holst hated signing autographs and loathed having his photograph taken; the trappings of  celebrity something he despised and literally ran away from, often dodging fans who clamoured for a piece of him. Images taken at the height of his fame in the 1920s following the phenomenal success of The Planets show a stiff, scowling Holst, at odds with his oft-reported humorous side. The exception to these images were those taken by the photographer Herbert Lambert (1881-1936), who suffused his studies of Holst with his characteristic light and shade. Taken in the early 1920s, his series of bromide prints reveal Holst at his desk, absorbed in a document but also gazing at the camera in what can only be described as a relaxed pose, his head supported by his hand, a glimmer of a smile on his lips. This particular image has become one of the most famous of the composer, frequently used for covers of CDs and books.             

The Holst Victorian House has several original photographs of Holst taken by Lambert in its collection. What it didn’t have until now – thanks to the generosity of the Friends of the National Libraries - was any correspondence associated with Lambert. The letter, which has been purchased for the collection with a full grant, offers valuable insight into the relationship between artist and sitter. Holst writes with gratitude and warmth about a present from Lambert – presumably, a book which he also refers to. It is likely that the book is Lambert’s Modern British Composers, published in 1923 and featuring Holst. 

Interestingly, Lambert was also a musician, specialising in making early keyboard instruments such as harpsichords and clavichords. Holst was also drawn to early music and perhaps this shared interest enabled Holst to feel more at ease, thus enabling Lambert to take such an exceptional set of images.       

Item Provenance
Bought from a private vendor.