Valentine Prinsep was born in India, the son of Henry Thoby Prinsep, a distinguished Indian civil servant, and his wife Sara, one of the famous Pattle sisters. In October 1876 he was asked by Lord Lytton, Viceory of India and a family friend, to go to India and paint the great Assemblage or durbar held at Delhi to proclaim Queen Victoria Empress of India. The enormous canvas, crowded with portraits of maharajahs, was a formidable undertaking and was not exhibited at the Royal Academy until 1880. Presented to the Queen Empress by her Indian subjects it still hangs in St. James's Palace.
Prinsep also painted other Indian subjects. In 1879 he published Imperial India: An Artist's Journals, a colourful account of his fourteen-month stay in the sub-continent. A group of his Indian sketches exist in the V&A.
Prinsep received his initial artistic education from G.F. Watts who lived with his parents at Little Holland House in Kensington as their 'genius in residence'. He then studied in Paris under Charles Gleyre, where he was depicted as 'Taffy' in Trilby, du Maurier's novel of the vie de bohême. The present picture betrays the influence of his parents' neighbour, Frederic, Lord Leighton, a leading member of the so-called 'Holland Park Circle'. Leighton was a classicist, who presented the Victorian public with depictions of Ancient Greece and Rome. Prinsep echoed the monumentality of Leighton's work in his depiction of the Hindu ceremony, and conveyed the startling exoticism of the East to a London audience by exhibiting the picture at the Royal Academy in 1886.