Though he never played a formal part in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Wallis is famous for his paintings The Death of Chatterton and The Stonebreaker, both considered masterpieces of the first phase of Pre-Raphaelitism. Wallis did, however, have considerable contact with important members of both the first and second phases of Pre-Raphaelitism. Wallis was closest to the Pre-Raphaelites and their extended circle during the 1850s and 1860s. In the spring of 1851 the sculptor Alexander Munro had introduced Arthur Hughes to Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Ford Madox Brown. It is likely that Hughes would have introduced his close friend Wallis to these Pre-Raphaelite artists at about this time. Hughes, William Holman Hunt, and Frederic George Stephens were amongst Wallis’s closest friends but he was also on good terms with the Rossetti brothers, William Bell Scott, G.P. Boyce, Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris, Algernon Swinburne, R. B. Martineau, Charles Fairfax Murray, and George Howard. Being a member of the Hogarth Club, Wallis would have known most of the young progressive artists and architects of the time.

Wallis and Arthur Hughes had struck up a friendship while students at the Royal Academy Schools. Hughes had entered the Royal Academy Schools on December 17, 1847, three months before Wallis. The two often met during the 1850s. In 1858 Hughes moved to Maidstone in Kent while Wallis, in the midst of his affair with Mary Ellen Meredith, spent the winter with her at Capri. It is likely that they were less in touch after this time, although they did remain friends during the following decades. The month before Hughes’s death on December 22, 1915, he wrote to ask Wallis for financial help. On November 4, 1915 he wrote:

My dear Wallis. I am laid up on my last illness and so despairing at leaving my dear people, in dire want and trouble (all from my want of care and dutifulness) that I try to think that among the old pictures I have, there might be one that you remember with favour, such as Botticelli Calumny old copy – or the St. Jerome I lent the Burlington Club – reproduced in Burlington Magazine. Do you think at a modest price you could add such to your collection? Affectionately yours.” (University of Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Eng.c.7040, f. 257).

Wallis was a wealthy man and always helped a friend when he could, and he did not fail to do so on this occasion. Hughes died on December 22, 1915 and was buried at Richmond cemetery. Whether Wallis was present at the funeral is unknown, although it is unlikely as he was in poor health himself at the time.

Wallis’s name appears only occasionally in the diaries and in the correspondence of the Pre-Raphaelites, but he seems to have been liked by them. He is mentioned for the first time in George Price Boyce’s diary with an entry on February 8, 1854: “Wallis said he liked my drawings and asked the price of the Westminster Abbey – 15 gns” (Surtees, 11). Wallis is mentioned again in a letter dated May 14, 1854, from Dante Gabriel Rossetti to the collector Francis MacCracken:

I have once seen a small picture by the H. Wallis you ask about, and should venture to say that any work of his must have some degree of value if not a very high one, at any rate something preferable to any “Mill” by any “Brandard”, to any “vacant” thing whatever by “John Bridges” or even to anything I could suppose likely to fall under Redgrave”s notice while “returning from Church”… Hughes could tell you more than I could about Wallis and his works, as he knows him well I believe. I see by notices of the R.A. that he has a picture there from the life of Dr. Johnson, which seems to attract some attention.”(Fredeman, Rossetti Correspondence, l, letter 54.46, 350)

This letter shows that by early 1854 Wallis was not yet acquainted with Rossetti. Wallis had returned to London from Paris at least by early February 1854. He exhibited four paintings at the annual Royal Academy summer exhibition that year and it is likely that he was introduced to the Pre-Raphaelite circle at about that time.

There was obviously a large circle of artists who knew each other very well and often gathered together professionally and socially, as can be deduced from their diaries and correspondence. From Boyce’s diary, 10 February 1865: “Dined at Arts Club. Full table. Had a lot of friends to tea (afterwards) at my studio (Chatham Place). The two Rossettis, Clayton, Wells, Walter Field, F. Burton, Henry Wallis and Val Prinsep” (Surtees, 41-42). Wallis, like many of his Pre-Raphaelite friends, was enthusiastic about music. G.P. Boyce testified in his diary: “1870. November 14. Wallis dined with me here, and we went to St. James’s Hall for Beethoven Concert. Glorious music.” (Surtees, 51) Wallis was a frequent guest at Arthur Lewis’s famous musical entertainments, first in Jermyn Street and later at Moray Lodge after Lewis’s marriage to Kate Terry in 1867. Other constant guests at these gatherings included G. P. Boyce, P. H. Calderon, G. A. Storey, G. du Maurier, H. Stacey Marks and Fred Walker.

The Liverpool Academy had actively supported the Pre-Raphaelites early on and had systematically awarded non-member prizes to Hunt, Millais, and Madox Brown between the years 1851 and 1856. This favouritism generated an opposition within certain members of the Liverpool Academy itself and in 1857 some members of the Liverpool Academy founded a rival Society of Arts. This threat prompted Pre-Raphaelite artists to lend their assistance to the Liverpool Academy. Although Wallis was numbered among them, he does not seem to have been overly enthusiastic in his support. G. P. Boyce, in his diary entry for June 10, 1858, writes: “To Hunt’s. At 7.30 we came to dinner and found in the room Wallis, Halliday, Martineau, Barwell, and Miss Hunt.... After dinner came Prinsep, Jones, Brett, Egg, F. G. Stephens and Stanhope... After some time, Hunt mooted the subject that was the cause of the gathering, viz. the importance of supporting the old Liverpool Academy. All adhered, Wallis alone rather throwing cold water on the project” (Surtees, Boyce Diaries, 24).

Art collectors from the industrial Midlands and North were amongst the first to acquire Pre-Raphaelite paintings. Major patrons included Thomas Plint of Leeds, John Miller and Frederick Leyland of Liverpool, Thomas Fairbairn and Samuel Mendel of Manchester, James Leathart of Newcastle, and George Rae of Birkenhead. Thomas Plint, who made a great deal of money on the stock market, seems to have been Wallis’s chief initial patron. Plint started collecting in 1856, not only works by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, but also by their younger and less well-known disciples such as Wallis, Hughes, and Burne-Jones. Plint died in 1861, aged only 38, and his collection was sold at Christie’s on March 7-8, 1862. Four of Wallis’s major works appeared in the catalogue including Elaine, Return from Marston Moor, Marten in Chepstow Castle, and Gondomar watching Raleigh’s Execution as well as the sketch for Elaine.

Since the 1850s, Wallis had been very close to Holman Hunt. He shared Hunt’s concerns about the Royal Academy hanging policy and about the lack of copyright law that would protect artists. As Boyce’s diary and Dante Rossetti’s letters show, Hunt and Wallis met frequently. They also shared a passion for pottery of all kinds. Their surviving correspondence, however, mainly dates from the mid 1880s when Wallis explored Egypt. Hunt may have initially encouraged Wallis to make his numerous journeys abroad to Europe and the Middle East. The effect of these travels on Wallis’s art was primarily to change him from working in oils to watercolours, which would have been far more convenient for an artist constantly travelling. The fact that Wallis was a wealthy man after the death of his stepfather may also have influenced his desire to travel, and the shift from oils to watercolours, because now Wallis did not really need to earn a livelihood from his painting. This change to painting in watercolour may obviously have influenced Wallis’s decision to stop exhibiting at the Royal Academy.

Wallis’s friendship with Frederic George Stephens was an intense and lasting one. Stephens had entered the Royal Academy Schools on January 13, 1844 at the early age of sixteen but had probably left by the time Wallis entered. Wallis likely first made his acquaintance at about the same time that he met the Rossetti brothers. Stephens later became an art critic and art historian, and most particularly was for many years the art critic for The Athenaeum. In the 1870s Wallis and Stephens exchanged letters on art matters and travelled together to review exhibitions. Wallis greatly benefitted from this friendship as Stephens seldom failed to review Wallis’s contributions to exhibitions. His comments on Wallis’s works were for the most part favourable, though he did not hesitate to criticize his friend if he thought the work required it. In December 1874 Wallis and Stephens travelled to Paris to review the Salon. In April and May 1878 Wallis replaced Stephens, who was ill, to review the Paris Exposition Universelle. At a time when Stephens felt uncomfortable with his post at The Athenaeum, and was trying to find an alternative or additional income, Wallis did his utmost to be supportive to his friend. By this time Wallis had established a network of correspondents within the art world. In 1884 Wallis insisted on introducing Stephens to the editor of a Berlin art journal who had applied to Wallis to write for him on modern English art. Wallis suggested Stephens apply for the job instead. In 1901, after forty years, Stephens’s association with The Athenaeum came to an end and he was replaced by Roger Fry. Whatever the reason for his dismissal, Wallis remained his loyal friend and sought to comfort him:

I was sorry to hear though yr account of the Ath: business. It is a matter in wch you can naturally do nothing, except take it philosophically – wch you will. One hears constantly the same thing happening to people writing for the press. Perhaps you may be considered fortunate in holding on so long to one Journal. I suppose you have already got similar work on another journal – perhaps better remuneration on one of dailies. If you have not yet I shld say yr ability & experience will soon get you the place if you go the right way to work. [(]University of Oxford, Bodleian Library, MSS Don.e.79, ff.163-4]

In his Reminiscences William Michael Rossetti recalls Wallis only briefly: “With Henry Wallis, the painter of the very admirable picture of the Death of Chatterton (now likewise in the National British Gallery and clearly one of the best products of the Præraphaelite movement), I was acquainted somewhat later than with most of the preceding. I say the less of him, in that he is still alive. I have found him a very agreeable companion, of solid character and open mind. He was also of some special interest to me as having known Thomas Love Peacock, the friend of Shelley; he once gave me two hairs from Shelley’s head, which, to my shame, seem to have disappeared. On one occasion I sat to him for a head in one of his pictures – I forget which. Needless to say that Mr. Wallis has for many years past been a leading authority on oriental and other ceramics”(Rossetti, Reminiscences, I, 158).

Another good friend was the painter and poet William Bell Scott who became associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement through his friendship with the Rossetti brothers. Constantly in touch with the Pre-Raphaelite circle, Wallis must have seen Scott regularly. A drawing that sold at Dominic Winter Auctions on October 5, 2017, lot 264, showed that their close friendship was of long standing. The drawing entitled Shadows on the Wall was executed on December 20, 1862 at Ellison Place, Newcastle, and shows the profiles of William Bell Scott, Alice Boyd, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Algernon Swinburne and Henry Wallis. In September 1873 Wallis spent several weeks at Penkill Castle in Ayrshire, where Scott lived with his mistress Alice Boyd, and where Scott painted Wallis’s portrait. Wallis, in turn, painted Alice Boyd’s portrait in 1878. The few letters between Wallis and Scott that survive, however, all date from the period 1885-86, at a time when Scott had developed a serious heart condition. Wallis had enquired after his health and Scott invites Wallis to visit him. In a letter of August 17, 1885 Scott, besides other details about his ischemic heart disease, enquires about Wallis’s forthcoming journey to Egypt:

I hope you will go to Egypt as you speak of and bring home some material for new works. There must be plenty surely between the most ancient and the most modern oriental life. I shall be vegetating here long time. If you do go let me hear from you on your return. Miss Boyd, my best of friends and nurses, who has preserved my life certainly, send[s] you kindest remembrances. She is disappointed you do not mention Felix. We hope he is all right. [University of Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Eng.c.7041, ff. 203-4]

In his next letter, dated February 18,1886, he gave Wallis advice about keeping a sketchbook: “The slightest scribble when named and dated becomes invaluable in two ways: firstly it recalls the whole scene in wch you make it, and the period when it was done, and secondly it entails a habit of rapid exactitude in designing and a truthfulness of expressing nature even when we have it not before us.” (University of Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Eng.c.7041, ff. 205-6) Wallis must either have already been in the habit of keeping a sketchbook, or he took Scott’s words to heart. To date, at least thirty-two sketchbooks by Wallis are still known to survive.

Wallis followed the path of the first phase of Pre-Raphaelitism during the 1850s and 1860s and adopted their painting techniques, with his chosen subjects tending to be taken from historical and literary figures. Paintings such as The Death of Chatterton, The Stonebreaker, Dr. Johnson at Cave’s, the Publisher, and A Sculptor’s Workshop, Stratford-upon-Avon, A.D. 1617 are good examples of this phase of his career. At this time Wallis was somewhat avant-garde as a colourist, for instance using blue shadows, presumably influenced by his Pre-Raphaelite colleagues. In his early works, Wallis had a penchant for interiors with views through windows. This might indicate the influence of early Flemish art but certainly also that of the Pre-Raphaelites. A standard compositional device in many early Pre-Raphaelite pictures had figures contained within a flat foreground space, occupying most of the picture plane, and with distant landscapes visible in the background. This produced pictures with little sense of depth but the device of incorporating a window allowed them to create a distant background without having to make the traditional middle-ground transition between it and the foreground plane.

Wallis was obviously aware of the changes taking place during the second phase of Pre-Raphaelitism. He adopted similar ideas in his work on an Arthurian theme, Elaine of 1861, and possibly also in his Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came of c.1868. He painted a few works of Academic Classicism such as Cleopatra’s First Interview with Caesar of 1862 and Marsyas of 1869, and of Aesthetic Classicism such as Pastorale of 1883. In the 1870s, his work fell under the influence of Italian Renaissance painting, as was the case with many of his Pre-Raphaelite friends. In Wallis’s Venetian-inspired paintings, however, such as A Despatch from Trebizond of 1873 or Found at Naxos of 1874, there is still very much of a “story telling” component to his works, rather than the “subjectless” manner of Aesthetic Movement painters like Edward Burne-Jones, Simeon Solomon, or Val Prinsep. Unfortunately, because the whereabouts of much of Wallis’s oeuvre remains unlocated, it is not possible to judge whether he might have shown Aesthetic tendencies in his handling of such works as Xarifa of1859, or his female head studies like Teresa of 1870 or Assunta of 1871.

Although Wallis as an artist may not have been in the first rank of Pre-Raphaelite painters, such as Rossetti, Millais, Holman Hunt, or Madox Brown, he was certainly the equal of his friends Hughes and Bell Scott. Wallis painted two works considered amongst the masterpieces of the first phase of Pre-Raphaelitism, a not insignificant accomplishment. Wallis was an exceptionally skillful draughtsman and a fine watercolourist, whom contemporary reviewers considered to be amongst the leading members of the Old Water-Colour Society. He was also one of the most important British Orientalist painters of the late 19th century. His work continued to evolve through various phases, from his early historical and Pre-Raphaelite works in oil, to his later watercolours inspired by his travels, especially those influenced by Venetian Renaissance art and his Orientalist subjects. The quality of his work remained consistently high throughout his career.


Lessens, Ronald and Dennis T. Lanigan. Henry Wallis. From Pre-Raphaelite Painter to Collector/Connoisseur. Woodbridge: ACC Art Books, 2019.

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

Rossetti, William Michael. Some Reminiscences of William Michael Rossetti. 2 Vols. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1906.

Surtees, Virginia, Ed. The Diaries of George Price Boyce. Norfolk: Real World, 1980.

Last modified 15 October 2022