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Mystery Cellist at Polesden Lacey

Do you enjoy a summer mystery? Here is a quest to uncover the identity of a cellist in a drawing found at Polesden Lacey, a National Trust site in Surrey, England.

Mystery Cellist at Polesden Lacey

Here at the Cello Museum, we get requests for information, but usually, the queries are related to cellos or bows – and sometimes music. Of course, we help as often as possible – sometimes, we can provide information, and sometimes our work results in more questions than answers. Our former editions specialist, Dr. Yuriy Leonovich, has had great success in solving music research cold cases.

Mystery Cellist with Mad Curly Hair

One mystery I was happy to have partially solved is that of an unidentified drawing of a cellist at the National Trust site, Polesden Lacey, in Surrey, England. Last year, Janet Durbin, a volunteer at Polesden Lacey, wrote:

In our collection is a drawing of a cellist ‘WJG 1897’ could be ‘WJC’ . . . We would love to know who he might be. Small beard just below his lip, large wild moustache and lots of mad curly hair. Holding a cello.

Violoncellisten der Gegenwart in Wort und Bild

A flip through of a few pages from Violoncellisten der Gegenwart in Wort und Bild reveals portraits of cellists with some rather magnificent facial hair. Some also have what could be described as “mad curly hair” as well.

One only has to flip through the 1903 Violoncellisten der Gegenwart in Wort und Bild to see that Janet’s description matches several cellists of that time! I then looked for cellists with the initials WJ(G or C) – and again drew a blank, this time for lack of options from that period.

To help my search, Janet promptly sent me a scan of the drawing of her mystery cellist.

Drawing of the Mystery Cellist

Drawing of the mystery cellist. (NT 1248212)

Read all about it – Clues in Newspapers

My next step was to search London and Surrey newspapers for notices of cellists performing either in London or at Polesden Lacey in 1897 to see if any of them had matching initials or “mad curly hair.”

While I found neither images of cellists (with or without mad hair), nor a cellist with the initials WJ(G or C), I did find that cellist Joseph Hollman was performing in London several times in 1897, as advertised in The Morning Post, The Standard, and the Daily News. 

The Morning Post Monday 28 June 1897

The Morning Post, Monday, 28 June 1897. Joseph Hollman is listed as “M. Hollman (‘Cellist to the Queen of Holand).”

Cellist Joseph Hollman, as you may have spotted in Violoncellisten der Gegenwart in Wort und Bild above, seems to fit Janet’s description, as you can see below.

Joseph Hollman from Violoncellisten der Gegenwart in Wort und Bild

Joseph Hollman’s photograph in Violoncellisten der Gegenwart in Wort und Bild.

An Autographed Photo

When I wrote to Janet that I thought the cellist in the National Trust drawing was Joseph Hollman, she immediately found this autographed photograph of him in the collections associated with Polesden Lacey.

Photograph of Joseph Hollman in the collections at the National Trust site Polesden Lacey. (NT 1248319)

Photograph of Joseph Hollman in the collections at the National Trust site Polesden Lacey. (NT 1248319)

Autograph of the back of the photograph of Joseph Hollman in the collections at the National Trust site Polesden Lacey. (NT 1248319)

Autograph of the back of the photograph of Joseph Hollman in the collections at the National Trust site Polesden Lacey. (NT 1248319)

As you can see, it is autographed by Joseph Hollman:

To Miss Anderson


Joseph Hollman’s

Compliments and kind regard

London 2 Dec. 39, 1884.

Janet added that at the time of this autograph, Margaret Anderson, who later became Margaret Greville, was 21 years old. She was

“a very wealthy woman due to her father William McEwan the brewer. Looking at the dates, she must have seen him again. It was the young and unmarried Margaret Greville who must have attended concerts or very select house parties in London, Edinburgh or in Europe . . . As far as we know she had no musical ability, but she certainly enjoyed the arts. Many artists performed at her country estate and her London house, in Mayfair . . . All Margaret Greville’s personal papers were destroyed on her death which is why research is so exciting.” – Janet Durbin

This additional connection with Hollman seems to confirm the identity of the cellist in the drawing.

Who was Joseph Hollman?

Josph Hollman (1895)

Josph Hollman (1895). Compare this with the Polesden Lacey National Trust drawing from 1897 (above).

Joseph Hollman (16 October 1852 – 31 December 1926) was a Dutch cellist and composer often cited as the dedicatee of the second cello concerto by Camille Saint-Saëns. He toured extensively, traveling as far as Scandinavia, Russia, the USA, China, and Japan. He spent much of his time in London and Paris, where he lived until his death.

Joseph Hollman postcard.

Joseph Hollman postcard.

He studied cello with Adrien-François Servais* and composition instructors with François-Joseph Fétis and Charles Bosseletat the Brussels Conservatory.

Joseph Hollman (1897)

Yet another depiction with “mad hair.” Joseph Hollman caricature in Vanity Fair by Francis Carruthers Gould, 2 December 1897.

Hollman continued his cello training in Paris with Léon-Jean Jacquard and in St. Petersburg with Karl Davydov. In addition to Saint-Saëns, as previously mentioned, his circle of friends and acquaintances included Jules Massenet, Edouard Lalo, Eugène Ysaÿe, Franz Liszt, and Richard Wagner.

Joseph Hollman

Joseph Hollman. Photo source: The Maastricht Composers Foundation.

According to Edmund S. J. van der Straeten in his History of the Violoncello, Hollman was

“the recipient of numerous orders and marks of distinction from many courts of Europe. Queen Victoria, with whom he was a great favourite, presented him with a magnificent diamond ring, and Kind Edward VII (then Prince of Wales) presented him with a pin bearing his initials set in diamonds and surmounted by the crown.”

Hollman’s Tone

Although, as a child, cellist Pierre Fournier lived in the same building in Paris as Hollman did and is said to have heard “horrible scraping noises” coming from his apartment,** Hollman is remembered by many for his beautiful tone.

George Bernard Shaw, after hearing Hollman perform, wrote:

“I am not fond of the violoncello: ordinarily I had as soon hear a bee buzzing in a stone jug – but if all cellists played like Hollman, I should probably have taken more kindly to it.”

According to van der Straeten,

“Hollman’s playing is distinguished by an extraordinarily powerful tone and faultless technique.”

Hollman played several cellos throughout his career, including a Stradivarius. However, there is some disagreement about which Strad he owned.***

Remaining Mystery

Originally Janet and I were searching for a cellist with the initials on the drawing, WJG or WJC, but now that we know the cellist was Joseph Hollman, the next step is identifying the artist, whose initials are WJ(G or C). Janet wrote:

“I don’t recognise the artist who drew Hollman at all. Needless to say these two items were miles apart in the collection with no link. It was the young and unmarried Margaret Greville who must have attended concerts or very select house parties in London, Edinburgh or in Europe. Be great if we could discover who had drawn him. Interesting that the two dates are years apart, she must have been a fan.”

Mystery artist WJG or WJC

Artists who might have been in London and might have visited Polesden Lacey are William J. Glackens, an American artist who did pencil drawings, newspaper illustrations, and paintings. He was in Europe in 1895, but I only found a reference to a “Mr. Glacken” in London in 1897 – and that’s probably not the artist.

Another candidate is Walter J. Clutterbuck, who was an artist but is known more for his photography and travel writing. Was Walter related to the bow maker, John Clutterbuck? And then there is Walter (J?) Gilbert, an artist at the time but predominantly a sculptor.

John Clutterbuck cello bow.

John Clutterbuck cello bow.

Do you recognize the artist who drew Hollman in 1897? If so, please get in touch. In the meantime, I’ll keep searching.

*There is some disagreement on this, but I have evidence that he was a Servais student, which is beyond the scope of this article. I plan to publish another article on Hollman’s life and career and add more details there.

**Pierre Fournier, as quoted by Margaret Campbell in The Great Cellists:

“The instrument grated, blew, boomed, whistled, wheezed, coughed, and sometimes even sneezed. In short, all the symptoms of a head cold were accurately parodied by the bow of Monsieur Hollman.”

***Hollman is listed as one of the owners of the c.1696 Bonjour Strad cello, which is now in Canada. As with the matter of Hollman’s cello teachers, this is beyond the scope of this article. I’ll discuss his instruments in a further Cello Museum feature.

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