Papers of Cecil and Elisabeth Collins

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

This collection consists of correspondence, notes and writings, artwork, photographs, press cuttings, exhibition material, printed material, personal documentation, financial documentiation, and ephemeral items relating to Cecil and Elisabeth Collins.

Administrative / Biographical History

Cecil Collins was born in Plymouth, Devon on 23 March 1908. His early life was physically and economically difficult and he was apprenticed to an engineering firm for a year before winning scholarships to Plymouth School of Art (1924-7) and the Royal College of Art in London (1927-31). At the RCA he won the William Rothenstein Life Drawing Prize. He also met and, in 1931, married Elisabeth Ramsden, a sculpture student. They lived in London and rented a cottage at Speen, north of High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, where they were introduced to Eric Gill, nearby at Piggots, and met David Jones. In 1933 the Collinses visited Paris, where they saw the work of Paul Klee and visited Gertrude Stein's apartment. They also became life-long friends with Mark Tobey after his exhibition at Beaux Arts Gallery. Collins held his first exhibition at the Bloomsbury Gallery in October 1935, where he showed some of his most important early paintings, including 'The Fall of Lucifer' (1933), which indicated the mystical direction of his work. He published a poem in 'The New English Weekly' in 1936 and a painting and a drawing were included in the 'International Exhibition of Surrealism' (New Burlington Galleries, 1936). In the same year, the couple moved to Devon, attending Tobey's classes at Dartington Hall. Collins held an exhibition in the Barn Studio (1937) attached to the Dartington Hall Art Department and, after Tobey's departure in 1938, Collins taught there (1939-43) alongside Bernard Leach, Hein Heckroth and Willi Soukop. The combination of interests in Far Eastern art and philosophy and German Expressionist performance proved important, and it was there that Collins began the series of Fools.

Between 1944 and 1948, the Collinses divided their time between London and Cambridge. His exhibition at Lefevre's in February 1944 escaped major damage even though paintings were blown off the walls in an air raid, and two more exhibitions in London followed in 1945. This period saw the publication of the first monograph on the artist 'Cecil Collins: Paintings and Drawings 1935-45' by Alex Comfort 1946 and Collins's own major text written in 1944, 'The Vision of the Fool' was published in 1947. Both confirmed his links with the poets of the 'Apocalypse' group and an inclination towards a visionary Neo-Romanticism in painting. In Cambridge from 1948, the Collinses were part of a circle, including the painters Nan Youngman and Elisabeth Vellacott, which founded the Cambridge Society of Painters and Sculptors (1955). From 1951, Collins also taught life drawing part-time with Mervyn Peake at the Central School of Art and Crafts and the City Lit. in London. He had a major retrospective at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1959, which included some "matrica" paintings, which developed mystical images from gestural beginnings. The Collinses moved to Chelsea in 1970. In these later years he received a number of religious commissions, making an altar front for the Chapel of St Clement in Chichester Cathedral (1973), for which Elisabeth made kneelers, and windows for St Michael and All Saints, Basingstoke (1985). In 1979 he was awarded the MBE (Member of the British Empire) in recognition of his service to art. A retrospective of his prints at the Tate Gallery in 1981, was followed by one of paintings and drawings in 1989. The painter died on 4 June 1989, during the course of the exhibition.

Arrangement

The material has been arranged into series as listed below:

TGA 200015/1 Correspondence

TGA 200015/2 Notes and writings

TGA 200015/3 Artwork

TGA 200015/4 Photographs

TGA 200015/5 Press cuttings

TGA 200015/6 Exhibition material

TGA 200015/7 Printed material

TGA 200015/8 Personal documentation

TGA 200015/9 Financial documentation

TGA 200015/10 Ephemeral items

Conditions Governing Access

Please not that, due to the temporary relocation of the Reading Rooms, we are unable to produce any material currently stored in plan chests, oversized solander boxes or framed items. If you wish to view any items from TGA 200015/3/7 - Artwork, then please contact the archivist at least four weeks in advance with your request.

Other Finding Aids

Paper and online catalogue available

Custodial History

These papers were kept by Elisabeth Collins when she donated the rest of Cecil Collins's archive (TGA 923) with the intention that they would be deposited at the archive after her death.

Subjects