uring the time Walter attended Sass’s Academy he met Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1844 who soon became his closest friend. They had a love of poetry and the theatre in common in addition to art. When Deverell entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1846 he also became friends with John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt. Deverell became a great favourite amongst the circle of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. As William Michael Rossetti noted: “If there was one man who, more than others, could be called the ‘pet’ of the whole circle, it was Deverell” (Unpublished memoir of W. H. Deverell, Huntington Library, 80). W. M. Rossetti in his Reminiscences noted: “Deverell was one of the handsomest young men I have known; belonging to a type not properly to be termed feminine, but which might rather be dubbed ‘troubadourish’…In his very brief life full artistic attainment was not to be expected; of artistic ability he gave ample promise and explicit evidence” (148). Arthur Hughes described him as “a manly young fellow, with a feminine beauty added to his manliness, exquisite manners and a most affectionate disposition…Had he lived he would have been a poetic painter, but not a strong one” (Hill, Letters to Allingham, 76)). William Bell Scott described him as “a youth, like the rest of them, of great but impatient ability, and so lovely yet manly a character of face, with its finely-formed nose, dark eyes and eyebrows, and young silky moustache, that it was said ladies had gone hurriedly round by side streets to catch another sight of him” (Minto, Autobiographical Notes, 1, 285).
Left: Geoffrey Chaucer reading the "Legend of Custance" to Edward III and his court. Ford Madox Brown. Middle: Lorenzo and Isabella. Sir John Everett Millais. Right: . William Holman Hunt. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Deverell’s handsome features made him in demand as a model. He was the model for the Duke Orsino in his own Twelfth Night. In Millais’s Isabella of 1848-49 he is the young man seated on the far left next to the man holding up a glass of wine. In Ford Madox Brown’s Chaucer at the Court of Edward III of 1847-51 he modelled for the page seated in the left foreground in converse with a lady. Madox Brown’s diary for June 25, 1849 records “painted …the head of page from young Deverell” (Surtees, Madox Brown, 64). He also modelled for Claudio in William Holman Hunt’s Claudio and Isabella of 1850-53.
At the beginning of 1848 Deverell founded with D. G. Rossetti the short lived sketching club the Cyclographic Society. In 1850 Deverell became one of the proprietors of The Germ, the magazine of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, to which he contributed two poems as well as an etching of Viola and Olivia for its fourth and final number. W. M. Rossetti when writing about Deverell’s contributions to The Germ noted: “Had Deverell lived a little longer, he might probably have proved that he had some genuine vocation as a poet, no less than a decided pictorial faculty” (Preface to The Germ, 1901, 22) As one of the proprietors Deverell help organize the printing and distribution of this publication. From December 1850 to May 1851 Deverell shared rooms with D. G. Rossetti at 17 Red Lion Square. Deverell lived there while Rossetti used it as a studio. After their joint tenancy ended when Rossetti left to share studio space with Ford Madox Brown, Deverell returned to live at the family accommodations at Somerset House until the family moved again in 1852 to Heathfield House in Richmond Road at Kew. Deverell used the stable there as a studio. Deverell obviously worked extremely hard during 1852 because he had a number of pictures ready for the 1853 spring exhibitions. He exhibited not only at the Royal Academy but the British Institution and the Society of British Artists. The coldness of the stable, however, was not conducive to his already precarious health. Deverell, during his time living in Kew, also undertook small parts in plays at the Richmond Theatre for his own pleasure. At one time he had even wanted to be an actor but his father did not approve of theatricals.
When James Collinson resigned from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in May 1850, D. G. Rossetti proposed Deverell for membership but no decision was ever made and he was never formally elected. W. M. Rossetti records in the P.R. B. Journal in October 1850: “Deverell has worthily filled up the place left vacant by Collinson. His work at the National Institution this year was a strong ground of claim; and this has been confirmed by what he has since done and is doing. He hopes to exhibit two pictures next year; Rosalind witnessing the encounter of Jaques and Orlando in the forest, - which is pretty nearly finished; and the ordering of Hamlet’s departure for England (Fredeman, P.R.B. Journal, 72). In his Reminiscences W. M. Rossetti stated: “He was nominated for the P.R.B. in the later days of that league, and might be considered semi-elected, but not absolutely enrolled when the P.R.B. drifted aside, and, along with it, the question of election” (148). Just how close he came to being elected P.R.B. is shown in a letter Deverell received from Frederic George Stephens on December 23, 1850: “I am writing to the P.R.B. to come here [59 Walcott Place] to hold the anniversary meeting on the 2nd January. You must come and we will elect you into your proper chair in form” (Lutyens, Deverell, 82). Unfortunately this meeting never took place. On January 13, 1851 a meeting of the P.R.B. excluding Deverell was held and a resolution was passed to delay electing a successor to Collinson until after the opening of the Royal Academy exhibition in May. This meeting also was never convened. Even before May of 1851 the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, although never formally dissolved, had for all intents and purposes ceased to be a coherent entity. The question as to whether Deverell or Charles Allston Collins would replace Collinson was therefore not further raised.
Deverell was very sick during the last year of his life, particularly from October 1853 onwards. His doctor had told him he could not live six months and he was advised bed rest and forbidden to even go outdoors. Despite the severity of his illness Deverell continued to paint almost to the end of his life, even when he could barely stand he was so weak. Of his Pre-Raphaelite friends Millais and Fred Stephens were the most attentive during Deverell’s final months. W. M. Rossetti wrote: “The dying painter’s last days were soothed by no common measure of tenderness in his friends: Mr. Millais & Mr. Stephens (the latter called almost every day) being even more constant in their personal attentions than perhaps any of the others. Both these artists took portraits of their dying favourite – chiefly as an excuse for sitting with him, & so helping him to pass the long dreary hours of his malady” (Fredeman, Correspondence, letter 54.7, 310n2) Millais frequently sat by his bedside reading the Bible to him and had also offered to pay for a nurse for him to help out the family. Millais was visiting the house on the day Deverell died on February 2, 1854 but was unable to see him. D. G. Rossetti, in a letter of February 3, 1854 to Ford Madox Brown, writes: “You will be grieved to hear poor Deverell died yesterday about 4 o’clock. He retained his senses to the last & died without pain I believe. He had been told in the morning that he could not live through the day, & he appeared to receive the announcement without either emotion or surprise, saying he supposed he was man enough to die…We shall all sincerely regret his loss but no one more than, or perhaps so much as, I, for I had known him longest & most intimately” (Fredeman, Correspondence, letter 54.7, 310). In a letter of February 3, 1854 to Deverell’s sister Margaretta, Rossetti writes: “I have never yet had to bear a loss so great to me as that of your brother, as old and close a friend as I possessed. I have none left whom I love better, and I doubt whether any who loves me so well” (Fredeman, Correspondence, letter 54.8, 311). Scott stated “D.G.R. felt his loss more than any one” (Minto, Autobiographical Notes, 320). Rossetti had seen him the week prior to his death and would have gone more frequently but the doctor had given express orders that Deverell should see no one. Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown, F. G. Stephens, and Alexander Munro attended his funeral. At the time of his death Deverell is known to have completed between fifteen to twenty oil paintings, a few of which were unfinished and two were later destroyed. Rebecca Jeffrey has commented on Deverell as a Pre-Raphaelite artist: “He played a more active part in the group [P.R.B.] than some of its actual members, and if evidence of his paintings is to be considered, Deverell appears more Pre-Raphaelite than some of the ‘pristine Pre-Raphaelites.’ As an artist Deverell had neither the technical excellence of Millais nor the originality of Rossetti. His paintings are an extension of his personality: literate, theatrical, and above all, youthful. They are the strivings of an artist not yet fully formed, leaving both his compatriots and future art historians to wonder what paths his painting would have taken had he lived” (84-85).
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, 76-96.
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