One of the best things about my job is when I get to see a painting, or a group of paintings, by a single artist that makes me totally re-appreciate their unique and brilliant voice. The three wonderful works by Cecil Collins that are included in our 9th June sale of Modern & Post-War British Art have made me do just that – shedding new light on this truly captivating artist.
Collins holds an important position within the story of British art over the course of the past century, yet his significance and influence is still today vastly underrated. An artist that refused to be pigeon-holed into a specific school or movement, despite flirting briefly with Surrealism and the early fringes of Neo-Romanticism, Collins did not bend to the changing whim of either critic or curator.
Yet, at the same time, he maintained strong links with some of the most important figures within the London art scene (living in the top floor flat of 47 Paulton Square above the poet Kathleen Raine, with Winifred Nicholson in the basement) and had his work snapped up by some of the leading collectors and institutions of the day (including Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst down at Dartington).
His artistic inheritance was incredibly broad – whether the home-grown metaphysical influences of William Blake or Samuel Palmer, or the palette and form of international artists, including Picasso, Klee and Chagall, Collins imbibed inspiration from literary and oral histories, Byzantine legends and tales from Shakespeare, describing his works as "visual music of the kingdoms of the imagination."
To look at his work you are taken on a magical journey, through Blake and Palmer, past contemporaries, including Stanley Spencer and Edward Burra, and on to the hauntingly beautiful early works of Lucian Freud. His paintings entreat thought, musing and meditation, so I urge you to look, and look again, and be transported into the magically mystical world of Cecil Collins.
CECIL COLLINS IN HIS STUDIO, 1987. PHOTOGRAPH BY JORGE LEWINSKI. © THE LEWINSKI
ARCHIVE AT CHATSWORTH.