Valentine Cameron Prinsep RA

Valentine Cameron Prinsep RA

1838 - 1904

Born Calcutta, India in 1838 ; Died London, England in 1904

Painter of portraits and Pre-Raphaelite scenes. Also a published writer.

Valentine Cameron Prinsep was first encouraged to become a painter by the artist and a Pre-Raphaelite associate, George Frederick Watts (1817-1904). Prinsep trained with Watts in 1856 and the following year was invited by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) to work alongside members of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood on a series of murals for the Oxford Union (the murals remain in-situ but vary in their quality and condition). Prinsep's work during this period closely resembles the Pre-Raphaelite style. In 1859 Prinsep secured a studio in Charlotte Street, London, close to the artist and designer Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898). Together they toured Italy and Prinsep spent the next two years studying in Paris and Rome. In his maturity Prinsep's paintings moved away from those of the Pre-Raphaelite school, instead showing greater allegiances to the work of Frederick Leighton (1830-1896) and leaning towards an orientalist style. In 1876 Prinsep was commissioned to produce a monumental painting to commemorate Queen Victoria's accession to the title 'Empress of India' in 1877 (now in the Royal Collection). This huge painting is 27 feet in length and took Prinsep some 3 years to complete. There are nearly 160 recognisable portraits in the finished painting and required Prinsep to carry out portrait studies across much of India and at his London studio. It is likely that Prinsep was selected due to his Anglo-Indian heritage and, although the final painting received mixed reviews, it marked a pivotal moment in his career as he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1878 and an academician in 1894.

Although a competent oil painter and draughtsman, Prinsep relied heavily on his wealth, social status and personal charisma (his nick-name was "Buzz" due to his fuzzy hair) to secure commissions and sales. His work lacked originality and he remained within the traditional boundaries of Victorian academic painting. Because of this, Prinsep never achieved the same status as a number of his contemporaries. He was a frequent exhibitor at the Royal Academy and counted two of its presidents among his closest friends: Lord Frederick Leighton and John Everett Millais (1829-1896). Prinsep became Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy in 1901.

Prinsep is represented by a number of UK public collections. London collections include the Victoria and Albert Museum, Royal Academy, Tate and the National Portrait Gallery. Regional collections include Birmingham Museums Trust, Manchester City Galleries, the Watts Gallery, Museums Sheffield, Glasgow Museums, National Museums Liverpool, Aberdeen Art Gallery, Ashmolean Museum, Bury Art Museum and the National Trust.

(Benjamin Angwin - September 2014)