The colourful world of Ned Holt

To coincide with the Museum of Edinburgh’s latest exhibition, ‘Street Life in Victorian Edinburgh: The colourful world of Ned Holt’, a new exhibition on Capital Collections brings together all of Edward P. Holt’s character paintings from a bound volume held by Edinburgh Libraries.

Holt began his working life as an apprentice baker but gave that up for a career as a showman and then as an actor. His painting seems to have been a sideline, often it’s claimed, merely a means of paying for a drink in one of Edinburgh’s Old Town taverns.

His paintings depict the people he encountered in daily life, those who lived or made their money on the streets of Edinburgh. Through them we have a vivid and remarkable record of the people who roamed the city’s streets 150 years ago.Edinburgh characters at St Giles

The Holt artworks in the Museum of Edinburgh exhibition are accompanied by poetry by Donald Campbell and we’re delighted to include some of his poems alongside the characters on Capital Collections.

Donald Campbell’s emotive vignettes bring the characters further to life. Here is Donald Campbell’s poem to the artist himself:

Ned Holt

In his studio and on stage
At Connor’s or the Hallow Fair,
The talent he possessed was rare
And would be so in any age.

But in Auld Reekie, as elsewhere
The Arts were sorely in decline.
The hey-day of the philistine
Caused all our people to despair.

And yet Ned Holt, he paid no mind
To fashions that were like to kill
The calling that he need fulfil;
To paint the portraits of his kind
From Canongait to Castlehill.

And – through his eyes – we see them still.

Don’t miss the exhibition of paintings and poetry at the Museum of Edinburgh on show until 29th June 2014.


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