Mr Walker and I were talking recently about writing a directory of people connected to Pre-Raphaelite art, you know, the sort of people who aren’t on the ‘A’ List but still have a part to play, possibly an important part. I was reminded of this at the weekend when I was reading about ‘minor’ Pre-Raphaelites and I came across the name Valentine Prinsep. Oh yes, I thought, he did…umm...and was friends with…umm…
I need that book.
Valentine Prinsep Julia Margaret Cameron
As it turns out, good old Val Prinsep was friends with everyone. Valentine Cameron Prinsep was born on 14th February 1838 (hence the name, I suppose) to a very well connected family. His mother Sarah was the sister of Julia Margaret Cameron, and all manner of people are ancestors and descendents of the family, including Virginia Woolf. The house leased by the Prinsep family, Little Holland House in Kensington, was a centre for artistic society throughout the middle years of Victoria’s reign.
Sir Pelleas Leaving the Lady Ettarde (Oxford Union)
Valentine was friends with all the PRBs, close friends with George Watts and was part of the happy campaign to paint the Oxford Union, being friends with Morris and Burne-Jones. He married well, to the daughter of the PRB patron Frederick Leyland and had a long, now partially forgotten, career as a PRB-fringe painter.
His work owes much to both first and second generation Pre-Raphaelitism and it is a shame that he isn’t better represented in exhibitions. Take for example, The Queen was in the Parlour…
The Queen was in the Parlour (1860)
This reminds me of Elizabeth Siddal’s work of the 1850s, and to a lesser extent, Rossetti’s. It also reminds me of La Belle Iseult by Morris, the awkward pensive sadness, pausing in a task to consider how miserable her life is, despite having honey and rather nice hair.
The influence of Rossetti is more apparent in Il Barbagianni…
Il Barbagianni (The Owl)
Oh, I do like a barn owl, they are so soft. Chickens just aren’t the same, I’m afraid. I love the muted tones of amber that chase across the canvas, from her hair, her necklace, her sleeve and the fruit behind her, up to the owl. The white of her skin and collar reflect the owl’s face and neck. It’s a beautiful image. I always thought that Rossetti should have done more owls. Or any owls. Owls are definitely the way forward.
A Girl Carrying Grapes
Now this might as well have been by Rossetti, definitely from the Fanny Cornforth years. There are a series of drawings called ‘The Parable of the Vineyard’ which are very reminiscent of this…
Parable of the Vineyard D G Rossetti
Many of Prinsep's choices of subject fit nicely within the PRB remit, subjects from literature like this one of Mariana…
However, I can’t help but admire his work that veered off towards the more aesthetic, ‘clean-light’ images he produced, which resemble Leighton more than Rossetti, or possibly Millais, in his mid-period when he produced pictures such as Esther.
Bathing in the Ganges
I must admit that, like Rossetti, my favourite works by Prinsep are his single female figures, all glorious of hair and rich coloured clothes. My Lady Betty is a good example of this, but my absolute favourite is Reclining Woman with a Parrot. Go on, guess what the picture contains…
|Reclining Woman with a Parrot|
Wowser, look at that fabulous hair, and get a load of her parrot. No, that isn’t a euphemism. Everywhere you look in this picture there are gorgeous details, like the hookah pipe and tiny tea glasses, the blue and white tiles and her little curly shoe. The sweep of glossy black fabric offsets all those rich colours and almost distracts you from her rather perky boob. Nice little pouffe too.
If we write our book of ‘Who’s Pre-Raphaelite Who’, Valentine Prinsep will have to have a fold-out chart in order to explain exactly why he is worth our notice. His work is as good as Rosetti’s (don’t tell him I said so) or Millais, but to my mind he lacks the spark of utter originality that would possibly have saved him from the ‘Also Ran’ list. Mind you, he was there at the time of the Oxford Union mural, he knew all the players in the movement and was related to some very important folks indeed.
He will appear in the chapter entitled ‘Handy People to Know when Time-Travelling’. Just imagine if we got an invitation to a party…I have nothing to wear...damn it...