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Study for “The Treasure-seeker”

This dramatic preparatory sketch for a painting by von Holst—a close follower of Henry Fuseli—was based on Goethe’s ballad Der Schatzgräber (1797), wherein a poor man makes a pact with the devil (“My soul you shall have!”), invokes a magic spell, and digs for riches. Instead of treasure, a fair boy appears who warns him against his evil ways and encourages hard work as the means to happiness. In this image, rather than illustrating the song’s redemptive message, Holst conjures a moment of “romantic horror.” A nude male figure lunges violently to the left away from an evil witch emerging from the shadows. The other side of the sheet repeats the same subject, albeit in a less realized manner (Eskenazi Museum of Art 87.26.4.2B).

Theodor M. von Holst
British, 1810–1844
Study for “The Treasure-seeker” [folio 20 (recto) from the Rolls Album], ca. 1840
Black chalk and gray ink wash on paper;
Image: 8 3/8 x 10 ¾ in. (21.3 x 27.3 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Gift of Gloria Middeldorf in memory of Ulrich Middeldorf, 87.26.4.2A