Gilbert Holiday

Ponies, ponies, ponies


Charles Gilbert Joseph Holiday (1879 - 1937) was born on 29th January 1879. He was not generally known by his Christian name, but as either Gilbert or “GS”. His early life was spent in St John’s Wood, London, where he used to watch the Royal Horse Artillery, which fuelled his early love of horses. There seems to be some disagreement in the sources as to where he actually went to school. Stella A Walker has him at Westminster School; Sally Mitchell at Winchester. After that, all sources are agreed on his studying at the Royal Academy.

Gilbert Holiday worked as an illustrator at The Graphic, The Tatler and The Illustrated London News, and in 1908 married Mina Spencer from Guernsey. Guernsey was to feature often in his work. He shared a studio for a short while with Lionel Edwards, on whom he was an influence. He served as a gunner during the First World War, but was not dissuaded by this from portraying the military; he painted many military pictures, and many of the pictures in Horses and Soldiers were in military messes. He rode, and many of his pictures were of equestrian life. He hunted with the Woolwich Drag, but had a bad fall when out with them in 1932. The fall crushed his spine, and eventually led to his death. He spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair, but still carried on painting, producing the only book he both wrote and illustrated: We’ll All Go A’Hunting Today.

He is widely thought of as one of the best sporting artists of the twentieth century. Snaffles wrote in his appreciation in Horses and Soldiers that his gun teams were “beyond criticism by either art critic or soldier”, and Guy Paget thought him the most successful artist to tackle polo. Horses and Soldiers was published a year after Holiday’s death in 1937 by private subscription as a tribute, though it also records the fading of the horse from military use.

Gilbert Holiday died too early to see the main flourishing of the pony book. He did however illustrate two books, both by Moyra Charlton: The Midnight Steeplechase (1932) and Three White Stockings (1933). Both are very well worth seeking out: Gilbert Holiday was a master at conveying movement, and he had a lot of scope in The Midnight Steeplechase in particular, though both covers show excellent examples of his work.

Finding the books: the two pony books by Moyra Charlton are very easy to find, and should not be expensive. They are probably the cheapest way of getting hold of illustrations by this excellent artist. The real difficulties are Horses and Pictures, and The Worcestershire Regiment, both of which were privately printed which obviously limits the quantities available. We’ll All Go A’Hunting Today can be very expensive too; the other titles are all reasonably freely available.

Links and sources

Stella A Walker: British Sporting Art in the Twentieth Century

Sally Mitchell: The Dictionary of British Sporting Artists

Guy Paget: Sporting Pictures of England

David Cohen Fine Art: a picture of Gilbert Holiday, examples of his art, and biographical information

Biographical information and some pictures

A BBC article on Gilbert Holiday and Guernsey, which includes some examples of his work on heavy horses, and also an interview with Janet Westcott, his grand daughter

You can buy prints of Gilbert Holiday’s work at the Jane Neville Gallery

More examples of his work; more here

Gilbert Holiday

Written and illustrated by Gilbert Holiday

We’ll All Go A’Hunting Today - Sketches from the Hunting Field

Sporting Gallery, Medici Society, London, 1933

Pony books illustrated by Gilbert Holiday

Moyra Charlton: The Midnight Steeplechase

Methuen & Co, London, 1932

Moyra Charlton: Three White Stockings

G P Putnams & Son, London, 1933

Books about about Gilbert Holiday

Horses and Soldiers: A Collection of Pictures by the late Gilbert Holiday
[Ed] Lyndon Bolton

Gale & Bolden, Aldershot, 1938

A subscription edition, published privately.

Other works illustrated by Gilbert Holiday

Robert Barr: Young Lord Stranleigh
Ward Lock & Co, London, 1908

Alfred Ollivant: Boxer and Beauty
William Heinemann, London, 1924

Charles Hyne: Ben Watson
Country Life, 1926

H Stacke: The Worcestershire Regiment in the Great War Forming Part of the Worcestershire County War Memorial

G T Cheshire & Sons, Kidderminster, 1928
Privately printed

Hugh Pollard: Hard Up on Pegasus
Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, 1931

Re-issued as Riding and Hunting
Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, 1938

Frederick Watson: Little Pink, or Little Muchley Run

H F & G Witherby, London, 1932

Wilfrid Jelf: Sport in Silhouette

Country Life, London, 1933

Duncan Fife: Mixed Bag - A Book of Sporting and Open-air Verse
M Deane & Co, Stafford, 1934

Hugh B C Pollard: Riding and Hunting for Those Who Can’t Afford It
Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1940

Pamela Mansbridge: Holiday in London

Nelson & Sons, London, 1960

Above - Midnight Steeplechase

Below - Three White Stockings

Left - drawings from
Alfred Ollivant’s Beauty and Boxer

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