Valentine Cameron Prinsep RA (1838-1904)

Val Prinsep, in Rossettilike pose.

Val Prinsep, the Pre-Raphaelite, historical and genre painter, was born in Calcutta, son of an Indian civil servant. He was educated in England, where his remarkable circle of family friends included Rossetti, Ruskin, Carlyle, Gladstone, Disraeli, Halle and Darwin. It was G. F. Watts who persuaded Prinsep to take up painting, and he studied in Paris under Gleyre, where his fellow students included E. J. Poynter, Du Maurier and Whistler.

Back in England, Prinsep was one of those who assisted Rossetti in the fresco decorations of the Oxford Union in 1857. He travelled to Italy in the company of Burne-Jones in 1859-60, and on his return to London became quite successful. In 1878 he was elected ARA, and a fortuitous marriage in 1884 (to Florence Leyland, daughter of a rich ship-owner from Liverpool) made him financially independent. He became RA somewhat tardily in 1894, and from 1900-1903 was Professor of Painting at the Academy.

Prinsep produced several pictures in the Pre-Raphaelite style, including The Queen was in her Parlour, Eating Bread and Honey and the rather classical At the Golden Gate (both pictures at Manchester), also Jane Shore (1865). With a Pre-Raphaelite minuteness of detail, classical drapery and an Eastern subject is his well-known The Death of Cleopatra (1870). Other Eastern subjects include The Taj Mahal (1877) and the remarkable Orientalist painting The Fisherman and the Jinn (1895), reminiscent of Frederick Goodall.

Later, Prinsep concentrated on historical and genre pictures, and depictions of contemporary life in the countryside. For these latter works, he achieved great effect with friezelike compositions and classically posed figures, giving a monumental feel. Examples include Home from Gleaning and The Linen Gatherers. A good examples of Prinsep's historical pictures is A Versailles (1894), showing marching peasant women with scythes. Of this picture the Magazine of Art commented:

"Mr Prinsep has shown considerable sympathy in treating the subject of the Reign of Terror - almost too much sympathy, in this case, with the women composing his crowd."
His diploma picture was also historical, La Revolution (1896), with a drummer woman as the dominating figure. Works based on a single girl were a favorite theme; examples are In a Street in Venice (1904; in the Glasgow Art Gallery), A Venetian Water Carrier and The Goose Girl (these latter two in the Walker Art Gallery). He also did portraiture, a strong example being A Family Portrait (1895), showing a strangely grim mother with two overly calm children. A portrait of Ruskin by Prinsep is in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum, and a good Lady Layland-Barratt is in the Torre Abbey Collection, Torquay.

Other works of interest by Prinsep include the charmingly titled The Legend of the Parrot, showing a colourfully dressed lady holding an equally bright parrot, Ayesha, which was bought under the terms of the Chantrey Bequest, a genre Cindarella (at Manchester), The First Awakening of Eve (1899) and A Study of Necromancy (1898).

The Rajah of Ulwar, engraving after Val Prinsep.

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