Pre-Raphaelites in The City: A Pre-Raphaelite Tomb Chest in Brompton

Dinah Roe

A Pre-Raphaelite Tomb Chest in Brompton

At first I couldn’t work out why Valentine Prinsep’s grave was located in such close proximity to Frederick Leyland’s Brompton memorial. What on earth could a bohemian painter nicknamed ‘Buzz’ have in common with a Liverpool shipping magnate?

Then I realised that the memorably named Valentine Cameron Prinsep was Leyland’s son-in-law. Marriage to Frances Leyland was a shrewd move on Prinsep’s part; an artist could do worse than marry a girl with an annual income of £10,000 and a father obsessed with filling big rooms with big paintings. Prinsep was no stranger to wealthy patrons and giant artworks; Lord Lytton had commissioned him to paint the 27 foot long Imperial Assemblage at Delhi (1877), the painting which led to his election as an associate member of the Royal Academy.

The son of a successful civil servant formerly in the employ of the East India Company, Prinsep was no mean businessman himself, and this must have impressed his father-in-law. After his marriage, he joined the boards of shipping and investment companies, extended his London house and bought an apartment on the Grand Canal in Venice.

Prinsep’s financial savvy was offset by his bohemian side and romantic background. Born on Valentine’s day 1838 in Calcutta, he was raised in London after his father retired from the Indian civil service in 1843. His parents lived in Little Holland House in Kensington, and their home became a watering hole for famous nineteenth century artists and writers. Close family friends and frequent guests included: Tennyson, the Rossetti brothers, George Frederic Watts, Thackeray, Holman Hunt, Burne-Jones, and his mother’s sister, ground-breaking photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. Prinsep studied painting under the tutelage of Watts, and later in Paris with Swiss artist Charles Gleyre, who also counted Monet, Renoir and Whistler among his pupils.

Prinsep had very close Pre-Raphaelite connections. In 1857 Rossetti invited him to collaborate on the Arthurian murals for the Union debating hall at Oxford, and he exhibited his first picture at the Hogarth Club. Later he travelled to Italy with Burne-Jones. Frederic Leighton was a close friend; the two artists joined the Artists’ Rifle volunteer corps and built homes adjacent to one another in Holland Park Road. Philip Webb, the designer of Morris’s Red House, was Prinsep’s chosen architect. Like many Pre-Raphaelites, he did not restrict himself to painting. He wrote two novels: Virginie: a Tale of One Hundred Years Ago (1890) and The Story of Abibal the Tsourian
(1893). Two of his plays, Cousin Dick and Monsieur le Duc were produced in London by his friend, the actor John Hare, who also took starring roles.

In 1884 Prinsep married Leyland’s daughter Florence, a woman known for her beauty. They had three sons: Thoby, Anthony and Nicholas. In 1901 he became Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy. He was hotly tipped as the next RA President, but Sir Edward Poynter beat him to it in 1896. He died in 1904. 

A Royal Parks illustrated guide to Brompton Cemetery notes that Prinsep purchased what he thought was a 13th century Sienese saint’s memorial for his grave. But it has weathered so badly that the guide concludes it is ‘obviously a fake’. Nevertheless, this unusual tomb chest is a Grade II listed monument. It is authentically worth a visit.




  1. I don’t even know how I came across your wbitese, however, I am extremely glad that I did. Everything that I have read so far has inspired me greatly.I am also interested in this idea of the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood’ and I am currently trying to adapt all of my Pre-Raph knowledge into a 12,000 word dissertation. After visiting the Ford Maddox Brown exhibition yesterday at the Manchester Art Gallery, I left feeling overwhelmingly excited but also very very aprehensive and confused. I think it is important for people and artists’ (especially female) to identify the influences that these women had on the Men of the Brotherhood and how much of a Role Model these women are in our current society.  I think you have worded your ideas immensly and have certainly got your point accross and I doubt anyone could be offended by what you are writing. I think it is amazing that you are embracing your passion and the references that your brain makes from modern culture/television to victorian art.I infact did this myself the other day, I saw a funeral for a friend video on youtube (I’m not sure of the name now) and it reminded me of a Rene Magritte Painting I saw called The Lovers.’ in Tate Liverpool a couple of weeks ago. I also find it humourous because I believe that directors intentionally use these artistic ideas for people like you and I to recognise them.Thankyou for writing this wbitese and I will definitely be looking out for updates in the future.x

    Kume responded at 03:54pm on 04/21/2012
  2. Hi Kume. I’m so glad to hear you are enjoying my blog. It is always delightful to ‘meet’ others who have been inspired by the Pre-Raphaelites, and I’m glad your studies are leading you to make all of the important connections you mention. There is no reason that art should limit itself to one medium - the Pre-Raphaelites knew that long before the days of video and the internet!

    As you’re interested in women and Pre-Raphaelitism, if you don’t know it already, I recommend the book ‘The Legend of Lizzie Siddal’ by Jan Marsh, which takes a critical approach to Siddal’s life, and to the way her story has been told. .

    You might also be interested in Marsh and Nunn’s ‘Pre-Raphaelite Women Artists’ It is a brilliant and very readable guide to women’s art in the period.

    Thanks again for getting in touch.  I hope you’ll continue to come back and comment when the spirit moves you!

    Dinah responded at 02:55pm on 04/22/2012

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Pre-Raphaelites in the City

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This blog explores the thriving Victorian cities which inspired the Pre-Raphaelites, and were shaped by them in turn. While the Pre-Raphaelites produced poetry and art praising the natural world, most were born and raised in urban environments, and their work retained a cosmopolitan sensibility. Although this blog will sometimes take excursions into the countryside, its focus will remain on city life. If you want more information on images or sources, please get in touch.