Art · Henry Holiday · Music · Musical Portraits · Research · Winifred Holiday · Women

Winifred Raven Holiday: Musician

One of my current research projects focuses on a particular social set of artists and musicians that came together in West London during the late nineteenth century. Though its most illustrious members (including Pre-Raphaelite painters and famous concert pianists) were men, the women of the group have their own important stories to tell. I’ve found that the wives and daughters of the men in this gang often had their own careers in art and music, but their stories have been relegated to the footnotes of books about their fathers and brothers. 

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Winifred Raven Holiday by Lock & Whitfield, 1886
National Portrait Gallery London

In this post I will share the story of one of these women – the musician and suffragette Winifred Raven Holiday (1866 – 1949). She was the daughter of eminent artist Henry Holiday, whose work with a formidable model called Priscilla was the subject of my last post

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Kate Raven, 1861
As featured in Henry Holiday’s Reminiscences

Winifred’s mother, Catherine (Kate) Raven, was also a noted artist. A gifted embroiderer who worked with Morris & Co., she developed her own techniques and executed William Morris’ designs on a large scale. Morris left the colours to her judgement, explaining to Henry Holiday: ‘I’d back your wife for heavy sums against all Europe at embroidery’.  

Kate was also a skilled amateur pianist who shared her husband’s passion for music. The family counted many leading figures from the world of music amongst their closest friends, including the violinist Joseph Joachim, conductor Hans Richter and composer Hubert Parry. 

Kate and Henry’s only child, Winifred, therefore grew up in an intensely musical environment. The Holidays hosted large concerts at their home in Hampstead, and dinner parties involved music too. At one garden party in 1881, guests including William and Fanny Holman Hunt, Lady Burne-Jones and Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema enjoyed Richter’s performance on the piano of extracts from Wagner’s Ring cycle. This had not yet been performed in England. On this same occasion a young Winifred – already a talented violinist in her early teens – performed Bach’s piano and violin sonata in B with Hans Richter. 

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John Collingham Moore, The Young Violinist, 1874

There are two notable paintings of a young Winifred with her violin. The first is by John Collingham Moore. It appears the identity of his sitter has been lost over time – the painting was sold at auction as The Young Violinist some years ago, but a reproduction in Henry Holiday’s Reminiscences confirms that the sitter is Winifred.

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Henry Holiday, The Duet, 1877

The second is a particularly beautiful watercolour portrait of Winifred (on the left) and her friend, Alexandra Kitchin by Henry Holiday himself. My favourite detail is the tiny profile portrait of Mozart just over Winifred’s shoulder. This paitning sold at auction in 2004. ‘Xie’, as Alexandra was known by her friends, was the daughter of Reverend George William Kitchin, a friend of both Ruskin and Lewis Carroll. 

Xie Kitchin playing a violin, photographed by Lewis Carroll, c.1876
Royal Photographic Society

Carroll, who owned at least one of Henry Holiday’s paintings, famously took several photographs of a young Xie.

When the Royal College of Music opened in 1882, Henry felt it was a little late for Winifred’s musical education as her skills were already advanced. However, he was keen for her to gain experience in performance and sit appropriate examinations. He said: ‘Orchestral-playing, ensemble practice, and harmony and counterpoint, are all essential to a musical education, and these were all to be had, and of excellent quality, at the College.’ 

His talented daughter was awarded a scholarship and soon excelled in her studies. Her proud father reported that ‘In advanced harmony and counterpoint Winifred came out first in the last year of her scholarship, though it was only her second study.’

One incident which occurred when she was a student confirms Winifred’s skill. The violinist Henry Holmes was taken ill just before he was scheduled to lead a concert in Newcastle. He asked Winifred to stand in for him. She led performances of quartets by Mozart and Haydn which she was familiar with, as well as a quintet by Schumann which she had never played. Henry reported ‘There was only time [for Winifred] to travel down, get one rehearsal there, and then perform all the works in public. According to accounts of the other members of the quartet, and of the local press, it was a brilliant success.’

When Winifred had completed her time at the RCM, she spent some time in Berlin where she played in a quartet with celebrated violinist Joseph Joachim. On her return to London she formed a quartet of her own – her pianists included both Fanny Davies and Leonard Borwick, both notable performers in their own right. With the help of clarinettist Mr. Draper, her father explained, ‘they played Brahms’ quintet for clarionet and strings, a work of no small difficulty, not often heard.’ 

In the autumn of 1893, at the urging of his wife, Henry Holiday took Winifred on something of a pilgrimage across Europe. Their final destination was in Bayreuth. Joining them on this journey was Winifred’s friend, a fellow Wagner devotee called Miss Florence Scott. On their grand tour they enjoyed much music, one highlight being a meeting in Venice with the man in whose arms Wagner had died. The grand finale of the tour was a performance of Parsifal and Lohengrin, which (according to Henry) ‘seemed to soar into the regions never before attained by any composer’.

In the years that followed, Winifred established herself as a performer of note. She led a ‘ladies orchestra’ which gave performances in cities around Britain, also leading a second orchestra primarily made up of female players. They performed to predominantly working-class audiences. Her father said: ‘The audiences at these concerts are largely working-class, and it is delightful, though to me not surprising, to see their enthusiastic appreciation for the greatest works of the greatest masters. There are few concerts I enjoy so much.’

As this begins to suggest, Winifred was (like her parents) very politically aware – a supporter not only of workers’ rights, but an active suffragette. In my next blog post, I will discuss Winifred’s activities as a suffragette, and reveal that she leveraged her father’s contacts in the art world to win support for the cause. Watch this space…

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