Holst was the son of a Latvian music master who settled in London in 1807. In the 1820s he became a pupil of Fuseli, and like him specialised in literary subjects with an emphasis on the macabre and supernatural. This picture seems to relate to the legend of Faust, as retold by the German romanticplaywright Goethe in his great poetic drama published in two parts in 1808 and 1832. Faust is a late medieval scholar with a thirst for ultimate knowledge who enters into a pact with the Devil, thereby pledging his soul. The daemonic figure to the left is perhaps identifiable as Faust's companion, Mephistopheles, an agent of Hell, perhaps participating in the witches' Sabbath during Walpurgis Night.
Gallery label, August 2004