Holiday was born on June 17, 1839 at 2 Lower Southampton Street, Fitzroy Square, London, the second of four children of George Henry Holiday, a private tutor to the aristocracy, and his wife Climène Gerber. Henry’s mother had been born in Mulhouse in Alsace in France. Henry was educated at home by his father and his paternal aunt Kate Holiday. Henry decided early in his childhood to become an artist and his visit to the Great Exhibition in 1851 proved a pivotal event in his life. In 1852, with his parents' encouragement, he became a pupil of William Cave Thomas, a close friend of Ford Madox Brown, who taught him drawing. Holiday later worked for some months in Leigh's Art School in Neuman Street where his fellow students included Fred Walker, Henry Stacy Marks, and Arthur Boyd Houghton.

In December 1854 Holiday entered the Royal Academy Schools as a probationer. His fellow students included Simeon Solomon, Albert Moore, William Blake Richmond, William De Morgan, Frederick Walker, and Marcus Stone. Holiday’s early work was strongly influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites. In 1855 he made his first of many trips to the Lake District. In 1857 he began teaching painting and drawing at Mr. Roche’s Educational Institutes for Young Ladies run by a Monsieur A. Roche. Holiday exhibited his first painting at the Royal Academy in 1858. In 1860 he was admitted to the Life school at the Royal Academy and also attended anatomy classes at King’s College of the University of London. By 1861 he was already intimately associated with the artists of the Pre-Raphaelite circle, including Holman Hunt, Edward Burne-Jones, and Rossetti, and with the architect William Burges for whom he executed some decorative paintings. In 1861 he went on vacation to Bettws-y-Coed in Wales where he met the artist John Raven and his sister Kate, whom Holiday was to later marry. In late 1862 the turning point in Holiday's career occurred when he was asked on December 6th by the firm of James Powell & Sons to prepare some stained-glass designs. He was to remain their chief designer until the end of 1890.

In October 1864 he married Catherine (Kate) Harriet Raven at Bettws-y-Coed and the couple moved to 21 St Stephen’s Square, Bayswater. They had one daughter Winifred born in 1866. In 1865 Holiday began his association with the stained-glass firm of a Heaton, Butler, and Bayne, which produced some of his most successful windows over the next fifteen years. In this same year he painted a frieze for Nottingham Theatre. In 1866 he painted murals for All Saints’ Church, Notting Hill. In 1867 he moved to a house, Portlands, at Knockholt in Sussex for the sake of his wife’s health. Later in 1867 he set off for Italy with his friend W. Gualbert Saunders to study the achievements of the great Renaissance masters in the decorative arts. The pair travelled via Paris and Chartres and visited Rome, Assisi, Naples, Pompeii, Florence, Pisa, Padua, Venice and Milan before returning to London via Switzerland and Germany. This trip changed the direction of Holiday’s art away from its earlier medieval influences towards a more classical style and Holiday became a leader in Aesthetic Movement stained-glass design. In 1870 he met C. L. Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) at Oxford. Holiday would later be commissioned by Carroll to do nine illustrations for his book "The Hunting of the Snark in 1874. In 1872 Holiday commissioned the architect Basil Champneys to design a new family home and studio named "Oak Tree House" in Branch Hill, Hampstead, which the family moved into in March 1874. In 1873 he spent six months at Loughrigg Tarn working on murals for Bradford Town Hall. In 1878 he received the first of his many commissions for work in the United States, when he designed two large windows for Holy Trinity Church in Boston.

Holiday exhibited his best known painting Dante and Beatrice at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1883. In 1885 he visited Greece via Naples and then returned via Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Vienna, Venice, Basle and Paris. Starting in 1887 he became actively involved in support for Home Rule in Ireland. Holiday contributed to the first Arts & Crafts Exhibition Society show at the New Gallery held in October 1888. In April 1890 he made visits to the United States and Canada stopping at major cities including New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Toronto and Montreal. That same year he joined the Healthy & Artistic Dress Union. In 1891 Holiday founded his own glass works at 20, Church Row in Hampstead. In 1892 he became Editor of Aglaia, the Journal of the Healthy & Artistic Dress Union. Holiday and his wife and daughter became supporters of the Women’s Suffrage Movement and he also actively supported the cause for Irish Home Rule. In 1896 he published his book Stained Glass as an Art. He visited Berlin in 1899 to learn enamelling techniques. In the Spring of 1906 he closed his glass works at Church Row, Hampstead and began collaborating with the firm of Lowndes & Drury. In January and February 1907 he visited Egypt. He painted a series of watercolours and illustrations on ancient Egyptian themes that he exhibited at the Walker’s Gallery at 118 New Bond Street in March, 1908. In 1908 he built his second home “Betty Fold” at Hawshead in the Lake District. In 1914 he published Reminiscences of My Life. In 1920 he moved from Oak Tree House to a smaller house. “Wansfell”, at 18, Chesterford Gardens, in Hampstead. He died in London on April 15, 1927 at the age of eighty-seven after a short illness. He was buried in Golders Green Cemetery in Barnet, Greater London.

Last modified 15 January 2023