Prinsep, Valentine Cameron (DNB12)

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PRINSEP, VALENTINE CAMERON, known as Val Prinsep (1838-1904), artist, born at Calcutta on St. Valentine's Day, 14 Feb. 1838, was second son of Henry Thoby Prinsep [q. v.], Indian civil servant and patron of artists, by his wife Sara Monckton, daughter of James Pattle. His mother, who was of French descent, was, like her six sisters, singularly handsome.

At an early age Valentine was sent to England to be educated, and with a view to the Indian civil service went to Haileybury. But close intimacy in youth with George Frederick Watts [q. v. Suppl. II] who for five and twenty years lived with his parents at Little Holland House and painted portraits of all the members of the family, and contact at weekly gatherings there with many celebrated artists, encouraged in Prinsep a taste for art, and giving up a nomination for the civil service, he resolved to adopt the profession of an artist. He went out with Watts in 1856-7 to watch Sir Charles Newton's excavation of Halicarnassus. After studying under Watts he proceeded to Gleyre's atelier in Paris. There Whistler, Poynter, and du Maurier were among his fellow students, and he sat unconsciously as a model for Taffy in du Maurier's novel 'Trilby.' From Paris Prinsep passed to Italy. With Burne-Jones he visited Siena and there he made the acquaintance of Robert Browning, of whom he saw much in Rome during the winter of 1859-60.

Friendship with Dante Gabriel Rossetti at first inclined him to Pre-Raphaelitism, but he soon came under the influence of another friend. Sir Frederic (afterwards Lord) Leighton, with whose work his own had much affinity. In 1858 he was one of the eight painters who under the direction of Rossetti and William Morris decorated the new hall of the Union Society at Oxford. In 1862 he exhibited at the Royal Academy his first picture, 'How Bianca Capello sought to poison the Cardinal de Medici' ; it was well placed. From that time to his death Prinsep was an annual exhibitor. Prinsep's chief paintings were 'Miriam watching the Infant Moses' (exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1867), 'A Venetian Lover' (1868), 'Bacchus and Ariadne' (1869), 'News from Abroad' (1871), 'The Linen Gatherers' (1876), 'The Gleaners,' and 'A Minuet.'

In 1876 he received a commission from the Indian government to paint a picture of the historical durbar held by Lord Lytton for the proclamation of Queen Victoria as Empress of India. The result was one large canvas and a number of smaller works on Eastern subjects. The chief picture, called 'At the Golden Gate' (1882), is a good example of Prinsep's work ; it is in the possession of the family.

Prinsep was elected A.R.A. in 1878 and R.A. in 1894. His diploma picture, 'La Revolution,' was exhibited in 1896.

He died at Holland Park on 11 Nov. 1904, and was buried at Brompton cemetery. He married in 1884 Florence, daughter of Frederick Robert Leyland of Wootten Hall, Liverpool. She survived him with three sons.

Prinsep possessed versatile accomplishments, social gifts, great physical strength, and after his marriage ample means. He was a major of the artists' volunteer corps. He published an account of his visit to India under the title 'Imperial India : an Artist's Journals' (1879). Two plays by him, 'Cousin Dick' and 'M. le Due,' were produced respectively at the Court Theatre in 1879 and at the St. James's in 1880. He was also author of two novels, 'Virginie' (1890) and 'Abibal the Tsourian' (1893). His painting never had much passion or power. His interests were too dispersed to enable him to become a great artist.

His portrait, painted in 1872 by G. F. Watts, R.A., belongs to his family. A statuette by E. Roscoe Mullins was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1880. A cartoon portrait by 'Spy' appeared in 'Vanity Fair' in 1877.

[Mag. of Art, 1883 (woodcut portrait by A. Legros) and 1905 ; The Times, 14 Nov. 1904 ; Graves's Royal Acad. Exhibitors, 1906 ; Mrs. Orr, Life of Robert Browning, 1908, pp. 224 seq.; private information.]

F. W. G-n.