Biographical sketch of Val Prinsep

Date Created

c. 1884


Frederick George Stephens (1828-1907), author and editor


F. G. Stephens, Artists at Home, photographed by J. P. Mayall and reproduced in facsimile by photoengraving on copper plates; edited, with biographical notes and descriptions, by Frederick George Stephens (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington; New York: Appleton & Co., 1884), pp. 11-13


Prinsep, Valentine Cameron (1838-1904), English painter

Date Issued

March 1884


Belonging to a refined and stately family with a longstanding connection to India, Prinsep was destined for the Indian Civil Service; however, his strong inclinations toward art led him to pursue a career in painting. He studied in Versailles and Rome, and George Frederic Watts served as his mentor. Growing up in Little Holland House, a frequent meeting place for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Prinsep was influenced by founding member Dante G. Rossetti. While still a student Prinsep helped Rossetti decorate the Debating Room of the Oxford Union. Sir Frederic Leighton also powerfully influenced Prinsep’s works. Prinsep’s long familiarity with “Indian ways, costumes, and motives” resulted in several paintings of imperial importance as well as a book titled Imperial India. Following his return to England, he also wrote the dramas Cousin Dick and M. Le Duc. He was elected an A.R.A. in January 1879, and was a faithful member of the Artist’s Volunteer Corps.


James Prinsep, An Essay on Indian Antiquities (London: J. Murray, 1858).
James Prinsep, Benares Illustrated in a Series of Drawings (Calcutta: Baptist Mission Press, 1831-1833).
Val Prinsep, Imperial India: an Artist's Journals (London: Chapman and Hall, 1879).


The online edition of this work in the public domain, i.e., not protected by copyright, has been produced by the National Gallery of Art.




Department of Image Collections, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Omeka record contributed by Jenifer Norwalk

Date Submitted

September 28, 2016

Date Modified

November 19, 2016




MR. VALENTINE CAMERON PRINSEP is the younger son of Mr. Henry Thoby Prinsep, Member of the Council of India, and Sarah, third daughter of Mr. James Pattle of the Bengal Civil Service.  The Prinseps have been connected with India for more than three generations, and were originally from Warwickshire, where my subject’s grandfather held a vicarage, whence, in the days of the great Clive, his son proceeded to seek a larger fortune.  Not fewer than seven of his sons attained official honours, and did good service in our eastern dependency, which they helped to form and consolidate.  Mr. James Prinsep, one of these, distinguished himself as the author of “An Essay on Indian Antiquities,” the continued use of which attests the learning of the writer, who issued other works of historical importance, and, in 1830, produced “Benares Illustrated,” a folio of lithographic drawings from his own sketches.

            Mr. Val. Prinsep was born in Calcutta in 1838, and lived there till he was five years old, when he was removed to England, and, being destined for the Indian Civil Service, entered the “Company’s” College at Haileybury, where he remained less than two years ere, his strong inclinations for art coming to free play, he threw up his Civil Service appointment, and became in effect a pupil of Mr. Watts.  He studied painting at Versailles, in the Parisian atelier of Gleyre, and afterwards at Rome.  As the Little Holland House circle included most of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, it may be taken for granted that our young painter, on returning to England in 1859, would be more or less influenced by Dante G. Rossetti, the recognized leader of many who have since achieved renown.  Rossetti, warmly appraising his disciple’s powers, induced him to share in decorating the Debating Room of the Oxford Union Society, where, although comparatively little more than a student, he illustrated one of the Arthurian cycle of romances with a mural picture, the {12} subject of which is “Sir Pelleas brought as a prisoner before the Lady Ettarde.” His colleagues in this scheme of decoration were, besides Rossetti, Messrs. E. Burne-Jones, William Morris of the “Earthly Paradise,” R. Spencer-Stanhope, and others.  Prinsep’s next picture, 1858, was in oil, and represented the queen who “eats bread and honey” while standing and feasting before a cupboard of quaint device.  This work possessed such fine qualities of tone and colour that John Phillip, a master in these matters, commended it warmly when, in 1859, it appeared at the first Hogarth Club.

            Ere long Prinsep, powerfully affected by the highly-cultured artist Sir Frederic, then Mr. Leighton, directed his practice to other than Pre-Raphaelite lines, and sent to the Academy of 1862 a picture showing “How Bianca Capello sought to poison her brother-in-law the Cardinal de’ Medici.”

            From this date pictures succeeded each other in the Exhibition, of which the following are the more important:  1863, “Il Barbagianni;” 1864, “Berenice,” “My Lady Betty,” and “Benedick and Beatrice;” 1865, “The Scarlet Bow,” and “Belinda;” 1866, “La Festa di Lido,” a Venetian scene: 1867, “Miriam watching the Infant Moses,” and “A Venetian Gaming House in the 16th Century;” 1868, “A Venetian Lover,” and “A Greek Widow at a Tomb;” 1869, “Hetty,” and “Bacchus and Ariadne;” 1870, “The Death of Cleopatra,” “Reading Sir C. Grandison,” and “The Dish of Tea;” 1871, “News from Abroad,” “A Beauty and a Beast,” and “Odin, the Northern God of War;” 1872, “Penelope,” and “The Harvest of Spring;” 1873, “Lady Teazle,” and “Devonshire House;” 1874, “A Safe Confidante;” 1875, “A Minuet,” “I Believe!” and “Home from Gleaning;” 1876, “À Bientôt,” and “The Linen Gatherers;” 1878, “Martaba;” 1879, “Roum-i-Sultana;” 1880, “The Imperial Assembly held at Delhi by the Viceroy;” 1881, “The Young Solomon,” and “Fresh Flowers from the Country;” 1882, “At the Golden Gate,” “Phyllida,” and “The Death of Siward the Strong;” 1883, “After the Honeymoon,” and “Titian’s Niece.”

            The picture of 1880 was of Imperial importance and interest.  Four years before, the artist was instructed to depict, on a large scale, the declaration of Her Majesty’s assumption of the title of “Empress of India.”  Mr. Prinsep, long familiar with Indian ways, costumes, and motives, was the best artist for the purpose.

            Officially armed, he traversed the country far and near, taking the portraits of the native royalties, princes, ministers, and others.  He travelled from Bombay to Allahabad, to Cashmere, to Madras, and Mysore, and thus, much hampered by etiquette, the hideousness of Western accessories, and routine, he collected materials for the work of thirty feet long, which now hangs in Buckingham Palace, having been presented by the Indian nation to Her Majesty.

            This tour was fruitful in other than pictorial achievements.  Mr. Prinsep gathered notes for that sketch of his experiences and impressions which are embodied in “Imperial {13} India,” a book which had a great circulation, was touched with humour and pathos, and very spirited and original.  It is not his sole literary work.

            In 1879, he entered on a path never before trodden by an artist of distinction, by writing a lively drama entitled “Cousin Dick,” which, when performed at the Court Theatre, attracted numerous audiences, and encouraged the author to put forward in the next season the well-constructed and expressive little piece called “M. Le Duc,” which had a reception equal to its forerunner’s.  The painter has written other plays which have not yet been “put upon the boards.”

            Mr. Prinsep has delivered public discourses on Art and Art-teaching, some of which have been published in the “Architect.”  His pictures, “Devonshire House,” “The Garden Gate, “À Bientôt,” and “The Minuet,” have been engraved.  The painter was elected an A.R.A. in January, 1879.

            Mr. Prinsep’s house was designed for him by Mr. Philip Webb, and, in its stately homeliness and breadth of character, is well suited to the ways and studies of the owner.  Large, solid, and massive without, and admirably finished in design and execution, its wide and comfortable windows, smooth, dark red brickwork and high-pitched roofs of tiles, are, without being heavy or austere, very sincere and picturesque.  Within, rich and sober colours prevail, and set off an abundance of sumptuous porcelain and other ceramics, sketches made in India and in Italy, studies for pictures by the artist and his friends, antiquities and oriental arms.  Some of Mr. Prinsep’s Japanese ware is well known to collectors and of extraordinary preciousness.

            Considerably over six feet in height, and of massive proportions, the painter himself sits in the photograph before his easel, as if he had just turned from the portrait of a lady, which, till the moment, occupied him.

            On our right is a charming picture destined for the next Academy, and entitled “The Bookworm.”  Its design explains itself.  Other paintings and some portraits are on the walls and easels; a piece of tapestry hangs on the railing of the gallery which extends along the wall of the chamber on that side.  This studio, although it is by no means the largest of its class, is a capital example of a modern chamber of that sort.  Lighted chiefly by an immense northward facing window, it is warmed by more than one stove, and fitted with all the appurtenances of a painter’s use.  The walls are coloured dark maroon-red; the coved ceiling which appears in the photograph, with the dormer windows on the south side admitting sunlight at will, is white.  Large tables are loaded with books, drawings, prints, implements and studies of all kinds.

            It is needless to say that Mr. Prinsep is a zealous and faithful member of the Artist’s Volunteer Corps, of which he is an original member, and, since the retirement of Sir F. Leighton from the active command, the senior major of the regiment.


Original Format

Book pages





Frederick George Stephens (1828-1907), author and editor, VAL. C. PRINSEP, A.R.A.

Cite As

Frederick George Stephens (1828-1907), author and editor, “VAL. C. PRINSEP, A.R.A.,” Victorian Artists at Home, accessed July 23, 2024,

Item Relations

Item: 1 Holland Park Road
dcterms:relation This Item
Item: V. C. PRINSEP, A.R.A. dcterms:relation This Item
Item: Valentine Cameron Prinsep
dcterms:relation This Item
Item: 1 Holland Park Road dcterms:relation This Item