The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Valentine Cameron Prinsep, 1836-1904

Nationality: British
Date of Birth: 1836.02.14
Place of Birth: Calcutta
Date of Death: 1904.11.11
Place of Death: Holland Park, London


Valentine ('Val') Cameron Prinsep, a portrait, historical and genre painter and writer, was the son of Henry Thoby Prinsep, a wealthy Indian civil servant, and Sara Pattle, the daughter of James Pattle, a Bengali civil servant. He was one of four children, his siblings being Henry, Arthur and Alice. In 1884 Val married Florence Leyland, the daughter of JW's patron, the Liverpool collector and shipping magnate F. R. Leyland. His maternal aunt Virginia, who lived for a time with his family in London, was a known beauty and modelled for George Frederick Watts. His maternal aunt Julia Margaret Cameron was a photographer.


When the Prinsep family took Little Holland House in Kensington in December 1850 G. F. Watts was invited to join them. In fact he became a guest in their home until 1875. Little Holland House became something of a haven for artists and writers, including Thackeray, Tennyson, Browning, Trollope, Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Val, who was encouraged to become a painter by Watts, studied under the artist from 1856. The following year he worked with members of the Pre-Raphaelite circle on the Oxford Union murals, painting Sir Pelleas Leaving the Lady Ettarde. Early works such as the Honey Queen (ca 1859; Manchester City Art Gallery) showed the influence which the art of Rossetti and Burne-Jones had on him. He toured Italy with Burne-Jones in 1859.

From 1859 to 1860 he studied at Charles Gleyre's atelier in Paris, where his fellow students included George Du Maurier, Edward Poynter and JW. He was the model for Taffy in Du Maurier's Trilby. It was Du Maurier who introduced him to the St John's Wood Clique, of which he became an honorary member.

Val's mature style was influenced by Frederick Leighton and by the Venetian subjects of Luke Fildes and Henry Woods. In 1876 Val was commissioned by the Indian Government to paint Lord Lytton's Durbar to commemorate Queen Victoria becoming Empress of India (British Royal Collection). Ayesha (1887; Tate Britain, London) was bought by the Chantrey Bequest in 1887.

Val exhibited in London from 1862 to 1904, showing at the Royal Academy, Grosvenor Gallery, New Gallery and Society of British Artists, a society which named JW's its President in 1886. He was a founder member of the Arts Club from 1863 to 1904, was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1878, and became a full member in 1894. In 1900 he was appointed Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy. In 1864 he commissioned a house from Philip Webb at 14 Holland Park Road, Kensington, a house which accommodated studio space and was intended to display the artist's social status. He also wrote two plays and two novels, Virgini (1890) and Abibal the Tsourian (1893).

Val continued his acquaintance with JW in London, and his name crops up in JW's notebook of the early 1860s (#12745). In 1884 Val seems to have been among those artists invited to the private view of JW's 'Notes' - 'Harmonies' - 'Nocturnes' held at Dowdeswell's Gallery on 17 May (#08683). However, by the 1890s their relationship had deteriorated due to Val's loyalty to Leyland, his father-in-law. In 1892 there was friction concerning the lending of La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine (YMSM 50) from Leyland's collection for exhibition (#05683, #08216, #08357). Later that year David Croal Thomson, JW's dealer, had trouble getting Val and his wife to give permission for Potter Palmer to visit the Peacock Room. Thomson wrote, 'We never were very good friends with the heirs of the late F. R. L. & after our Whistler Show we are worse than ever' (#05748). Val's article 'The Private Art Collections of London: The Late Mr Frederick Leyland's in Princes' Gate', published in May of this year, included reminiscences of JW. The latter spoke of it scornfully (#07508).


Prinsep, Val, Imperial India: An Artist's Journal, 1879; Prinsep, Val, 'The Private Art Collections of London: The Late Mr Frederick Leyland's in Princes' Gate. First Paper - Rossetti and his Friend', Art Journal, n.s., no. 647, May 1892, pp. 129-34; Prinsep, Val, 'A Chapter from a Painters Reminiscence: The Oxford Circle, Rossetti, Burne-Jones and William Morris. Part II: Dante Gabriel Rossetti', Magazine of Art, n.s., vol. 2, 1904, pp. 167-72, 281-86; Prinsep, Val, 'A Student's Life in Paris in 1859', Magazine of Art, n.s., vol. 2, 1904, pp. 331-42; Prinsep, Val, 'An Artist's Life in Italy in 1860', Magazine of Art, n.s., vol. 2, 1904, pp. 417-21; Records of The Arts Club, London.

Bénézit, E., Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, 8 vols, Paris, 1956-61; Wood, Christopher, The Dictionary of Victorian Painters, Woodbridge, 1971; Johnson, J., and A. Gruetzner, The Dictionary of British Artists 1880-1940 Woodbridge, 1980; Dakers, Caroline, The Holland Park Circle: Artists and Victorian Society, New Haven and London, 1999; Wyllie, Nagham, 'Val Prinsep', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 16 October 2002).