Stanhope was unique in the Pre-Raphaelite circle in coming from an aristocratic background. His mother, Lady Elizabeth Spencer Stanhope, was the youngest daughter of Thomas Coke, Earl of Leicester, one of the greatest agricultural reformers of the day. Educated at Rugby and Christ Church, Oxford, Stanhope was determined, despite parental opposition, to become an artist, and in 1850 he was introduced to G.F. Watts. The following year Watts assumed the role of 'genius-in- residence' at Little Holland House, the picturesque old dower house in Kensington where Mrs Thoby Prinsep, with the backing of a rich Anglo-Indian husband, was creating a salon frequented by celebrities in the worlds of art, literature, politics and science. Stanhope joined this self-consciously cultured circle, receiving informal instruction from Watts, helping him to paint murals on the walls of Little Holland House, and accompanying him on visits to Italy (1853) and Greece (1856-57). Watts, however, was not an inspiring teacher, and the young man soon fell victim to the emotive art of Rossetti and his follower Burne-Jones, both of whom were among Mrs Prinsep's 'lions'. In 1857 he joined them and others in painting the famous murals illustrating the Morte d'Arthur in the Oxford Union, and his picture Thoughts of the Past (Tate Gallery), exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1859, is very Rossettian in concept and style.
Burne-Jones, too, had a profound influence on Stanhope's development, even though he was four years his junior. Having cemented a friendship in the Oxford Union (their murals were adjacent), they remained close for life. The relationship is particularly evident in the picture which is arguably Stanhope's masterpiece, Love and the Maiden, exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877 and sold at Christie's London on 6 June 1997 for a record price of 727,500 ($1,185,825). But Stanhope was no mere interpreter of other men's ideas. He has a very recognisable style of his own, and his artistic qualities were highly regarded by his peers. Many years later Burne-Jones told his assistant T.M. Rooke that Stanhope's 'colour was beyond any the finest in Europe; an extraordinary turn for landscape he had too - quite individual. Rossetti was in a perfect state of enthusiasm about it'.
Stanhope was a martyr to asthma, and his place of residence was determined by his health. On his marriage in 1860 he commissioned a house from the architect Philip Webb, one of the partners of the Morris firm, at Cobham in Surrey. He later moved to the vicinity of Cannon Hall, Barnsley in Yorkshire, which had been his childhood home, and in the early 1870s he settled at the Villa Nuti at Bellosguardo outside Florence, living there until the end of his life. The place became a centre for the English expatriate community and visitors from home. Morris and Burne-Jones visited him in 1873, and in later years his niece and her husband, Evelyn and William de Morgan, were annual migrants.
The present picture, illustrating the Book of Genesis, Chapter 3, is related in theme to Stanhope's painting Eve Tempted (Manchester City Art Gallery), which was exhibited with Love and the Maiden at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877. It is possibly a little later, and in any case must have been painted during his residence in Italy. Stanhope was much influenced at this time by the Old Master paintings that surrounded him in Florence, and no doubt he was aware of Masaccio's famous account of the Expulsion in the Brancacci Chapel in the Carmine. However, although the distraught figures of Adam and Eve may possibly echo those of Masaccio, there is little underlying relationship between the Renaissance master's heroic simplicity and Stanhope's late Pre-Raphaelite mannerism.