Walter Deverell by W. Holman Hunt. 1853.

Walter Howell Deverell was born on October 1, 1827 at Charlottesville, Virginia, where his father had a teaching position. His parents, Walter Ruding Deverell and Dorothy Margaretta Phillips, were both English and Walter was the oldest of five sons. The family returned to England in 1829 when Walter was only two years old. In June 1836 his father became secretary of the Statistical Society, and in April 1840 he became Governor of the general prison at Perth. In 1843 he was appointed Assistant Secretary to William Dyce, the Director of the Government School of Design, Somerset House, in London where the family were alloted accomodations.

Although Walter was educated primarily by his father, at some time during his boyhood he was in Scotland with a private tutor where he learned both Latin and Greek. At age fifteen Walter began writing poetry and stories, some of which were published. In 1843, at age sixteen, Walter was placed against his will in the office of a solicitor in Westminster, despite his determination to become an artist. In the following year his father relented and he was allowed to attend Sass’s Drawing Academy in Bloomsbury run by F. S. Cary. In December 1846 Deverell entered the Antique School of the Royal Academy. Although Deverell left the R.A. Schools in 1848, his work there was highly thought of. In April 1848 one of his former teachers J. R. Herbert wrote to Deverell’s father: “You ought to be proud of your boy. I have no doubt as to his future success.” Deverell first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1847, a genre painting entitled Reposing after the Ball. In 1848 the next picture he exhibited at the Royal Academy, Margaret in Prison visited by Faust, shows him being influenced in its subject matter by his friend Dante Gabriel Rossetti. In September 1848 Deverell was appointed as one of the five assistant masters at the Government School of Design where the teaching emphasis was on ornamental design for industry.

In March 1850 he was the first artist to discover Elizabeth Siddal, whom he used as a model in his painting of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. In April 1850 the painting was exhibited at the National Institution of Fine Arts at the Portland Gallery. In 1852 he moved with his family to Kew after the Government School of Design moved from Somerset House to Marlborough House and the family lost their tied accommodation. That same year Deverell had to take on teaching night classes at the school. This involved a long tiring commute from Kew by rail four or five times a week which was not beneficial to the state of his health. Despite his heavy teaching responsibilities Deverell continued to work hard at his own paintings. After the death of his father on June 25, 1853 Walter took on the support of his two younger brothers and two sisters, a heavy responsibility for a young man, and the family moved to a smaller less expensive house at 3 Margaretta Terrace in Chelsea. In May 1853 Deverell was showing the first signs of being ill with Bright’s disease, a form of glomerulonephritis affecting the kidneys, likely secondary to an earlier streptococcal sore throat or scarlet fever. By October he was very ill indeed and had to give up his teaching post at the Government School of Design, although he continued to paint at home. He died on February 2, 1854 from Bright’s disease at his home in Chelsea, aged only twenty-six. He was buried in the graveyard of the Holy Trinity Church Brompton cemetery on February 7. — Dennis T. Lanigan

Biographical and Introductory Material



Bryant, Barbara. “Recovering Walter Deverell: Image, Identity and Portraiture in Pre-Raphaelite Art.” In Pre-Raphaelitism in Australasia Special Issue, Australasian Journal of Victorian Studies>, 22 (2018): 1-23.

Deverell, Frances C. The P.R.B. and Walter Deverell, Letters from Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Others With Narrative and Illustrations, 1899. (Unpublished typewritten manuscript, Huntington Library and Museum, San Marino, California).

Fredeman, William E. Ed. The P.R. B. Journal. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975.

Hill, George Birkbeck Ed. Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti to William Allingham, 1854-1870. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1897.

Holloway, Verity. “In Defense of Walter Deverell.” Pre-Raphaelite Society Review, 22 (Summer 2014): 20-28.

Jeffrey, Rebecca A. “Walter H. Deverell: Some Observations and a Checklist.” Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies, 6 (1986): 83-92.

Lutyens, Mary. “Walter Howell Deverell.” Ed. Leslie Parris. Pre-Raphaelite Papers. London: The Tate Gallery and Allen Lane, 1984.

Minto, W. Ed. Autobiographical Notes of the Life of William Bell Scott. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1892.

Rossetti, Dante Gabriel. The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The Formative Years 1835-1854. Ed. William E. Fredeman. Vol. 1. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2002.

Rossetti, William Michael. Preface to the 1901 Facsimile Reprint Edition of The Germ. London: Elliot Stock, 1901.

Rossetti, William Michael. Some Reminiscences of William Michael Rossetti. Vol. I. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1906.

Shefer, Elaine. “Deverell, Rossetti, Siddal, and ‘The Bird in the Cage’.” The Art Bulletin, 67 (September 1985): 437-448.

Last modified 8 March 2022