Recovering Walter Howell Deverell: Image, Identity and Portraiture


  • Barbara Bryant independent art historian


Pre-Raphaelite art, Victorian art, Walter Howell Deverell, "The Pet Parrot"


From the founding of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848, this group of young British artists ignited new possibilities in all genres of art, not least portraiture.  The formal portrait mutated into a more direct vision of a real person, while subject paintings gained new meanings as artists cast family and friends in new roles, bringing into question the wider issue of identity.  One work that exemplifies this aspect of Pre-Raphaelite art is Walter Howell Deverell's The Pet Parrot (1853) in the collections of the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. Due to his early death and lack of a full career, Deverell (1827-54), has not been fully integrated into accounts of Pre-Raphaelitism.  This articles seeks to begin the reinstatement of this artist within the discussion of the art of the period.  I will consider his painting The Pet Parrot with emphasis on the identity of the artist, the identity of the sitter and the place of this work in the historiography of Pre-Raphaelitism.

Author Biography

Barbara Bryant, independent art historian

Dr. Barbara Bryant is an art historian and consultant curator based in London. She specializes in British art, especially portraiture, artists’ studio houses and the history of collecting. Her books include GF Watts Portraits: Fame & Beauty in Victorian Society (National Portrait Gallery, London, 2004), G. F. Watts Victorian Visionary (co-author M. Bills) (Yale U P, 2008), G.F. Watts in Kensington: Little Holland House and Gallery (2009) and Two Temple Place: ‘A Perfect Gem’ of Late Victorian Art, Architecture and Design (2013).  She wrote the life of Watts for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.


She has published and lectured widely on nineteenth-century British art and architecture, including chapters on the Aesthetic portrait for The Cult of Beauty (Victoria and Albert Museum, 2011); on Mortimer Menpes’s studio house (Art Gallery of South Australia, 2015) and on Alice Macdonald Kipling for John Lockwood Kipling (Yale U P, 2017).  In 2018, her article on portraits by Watts in the NGV appeared in the Art Journal of the National Gallery of Victoria. She also wrote for The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition: A Chronicle, 1769–2018, published online by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.  She is Art UK’s Group Leader for nineteenth-century British portraits in their online discussion forum, Art Detective.


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Walter Howell Deverell.  "The Pet Parrot" ("The Grey Parrot") c.1852-53.






PreRaphaelitism in Australasia Special Issue