Henry Wallis trained at Cary's Academy and the Royal Academy Schools (1848), and later at Gleyre's in Paris. He exhibited from 1853, choosing literary subjects, most especially the homes of Shakespeare, Raleigh etc. In 1856 he exhibited his great Pre-Raphaelite picture The Death of Chatterton which won him enormous popularity. George Meredith, the poet and novelist, was the model for Chatterton, an unfortunate step for him, as Wallis eloped with his wife, marrying her in 1857/8. In 1857 Wallis painted his second important Pre-Raphaelite picture, The Stonebreaker (John Brett exhibited a painting by the same title in the following year).
In 1859 Wallis inherited a fortune that allowed him to live independently, and after this, although he continued to exhibit, he never produced anything as important as his early pictures. He worked greatly in watercolours, and became RWS in 1880. Among various late works, he produced pictures of Cairo and Suez street scenes, all tending to genre.
The Death of Chatterton is at the Tate Gallery and The Stonebreaker is in Birmingham, where also may be found Pre-Raphaelite studies of girl-musicians. A portrait of the poet Thomas Love Peacock is in the National Portrait Gallery. Shakespeare's House, Stratford, with dog and dead heron added by Landseer, is in Stratford, The Staircase Leading to the Room in which Shakespeare was Born is in the V & A, and in the Walker Art Gallery is A Coast Scene, Sunset, Seaford (1859).
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