Stephens on Prinsep


F. G. Stephens, "Mr. Val C. Prinsep, A.R.A.," Artists at Home, 1884. 


V. C. Prinsep, Self-Portrait, 1883

Stephens begins his introduction of Val. C. Prinsep by attesting to the stature and high importance of this subject's family, placing Prinsep well within the sphere of the gentleman artist. He notes that no less than seven of the Prinsep children achieved official honors serving in India, and that Val Prinsep himself was destined for the Indian Civil Service; his strong inclinations for art, however, led him to pursue a career in painting. Stephens details at great length Prinsep’s ties to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, including the influence of Dante G. Rossetti on his early works. He mentions that while still a student, Prinsep helped Rossetti decorate the Debating Room of the Oxford Union Society, confirming Prinsep’s artistic talent even at that early age. Stephens likely chose to explore this relationship in detail because of his own ties to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as one of the seven founding members. Stephens and Rossetti shared a mutual admiration: Rossetti had written to his friend in 1873 that “for art-literature, you stand alone,” and in September of the same year Stephens declared, “Exuberance in power, exuberance of poetry of a rich order, noble technical gifts, vigour of conception, and a marvellously extensive range of thought and invention, appear in nearly everything which Mr Rossetti produces.”[1] For Stephens to associate Prinsep with an artist he so highly regarded attests to Prinsep’s talent and worthiness and provides an excellent opportunity for Stephens to remind us of his valued relationship with Rossetti.  

Stephens also emphasizes Prinsep’s long familiarity with “Indian ways, costumes, and motives,”[2] which resulted in several paintings of Imperial importance, including The Imperial Assembly held at Delhi by the Viceroy of 1880, as well as a book entitled Imperial India. Stephens clearly values the wide range of Prinsep’s talents, mentioning his lively and “well-constructed” dramas Cousin Dick and M. Le Duc, and his lectures on art and art teaching. Through Stephens’s description, it becomes clear that Prinsep exemplifies the well-educated gentleman so highly prized in Victorian society. Stephens concludes by describing Prinsep’s studio, “admirably finished in design and execution” and full of aesthetic objects, including porcelain and Japanese ware, as affirmation of his success as an artist. Moreover, Stephens’s detailed report implies familiar acquaintance, as though Stephens would like us to believe he was a close personal friend who might have paid a visit to Prinsep's studio, and that this friendship afforded him the knowledge shared in this biography. 

-Jenifer Norwalk


[1] Dianne S. MacLeod, “F. G. Stephens: Pre-Raphaelite Critic and Art Historian,” The Burlington Magazine 128, no. 999 (June 1986): 398-99.

[2] Frederic George Stephens and J. P. Mayall. Artists at Home: Photographed by J.P. Mayall, and Reproduced in Facsimile by Photo-engraving on Copper Plates (New York: Appleton, 1884), 12.