Elisabeth Collins Another World c.1939–40

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Artwork details

Artist
Title
Another World
Date c.1939–40
Medium Ink on paper
Dimensions Image: 510 x 381 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Purchased 1996
Reference
T07194
View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Catalogue entry

Elisabeth Collins 1904-2000

Another World c.1939-40

T07194

Pencil and ink on paper 510 x 382 (20 1/8 x 16)

Inscribed in pencil ‘Elisabeth’ b.r.; inscribed on back in pencil ‘2’ b.l.

Purchased from the artist, 1996

Provenance:
The artist, purchased through England & Co., London, 1996

Exhibited:
Elisabeth Collins, England & Co., London, Sept.-Oct. 1996 (not in cat.)

Although initially retaining their house in Buckinghamshire, Elisabeth and Cecil Collins were based in Devon in 1936-43, during which time they participated in the activities at Dartington Hall. This association may be divided into two distinct periods. They had arrived at the instigation of Mark Tobey, who was teaching art at the Hall, but they remained outside the main workings of the artistic establishment and lived in a rented bungalow in Totnes. The situation changed in 1939 with the onset of war. Tobey had returned to America in June 1938, allowing Cecil Collins the opportunity to teach the art course with Hein Heckroth (who was interned in 1940). Although the Collinses also moved to the estate itself, the change in political circumstances ensured that their period of most intimate involvement with Dartington was overshadowed by outside events; the bombing of Plymouth resulted in fires clearly visible from the Hall, the army was billeted in the area and eventually the Hall received an evacuated school.[1]


The art classes for all of those associated with the estate were an established fixture and Collins attended them throughout her stay in Devon. They provided the opportunity for the resumption of her artistic activity which had been dormant since she left the Royal College in 1931. The declared purpose of Tobey’s evening classes was to open ‘up great powers for living the life of the artist within us all’.[2] Collins recalled that ‘there were marvellous colours’ in the classes;[3] Tobey continued to encourage her from Seattle, writing ‘Elizabeth [sic] painting - I certainly hope so!’[4] Her husband and Hein Heckroth conceived their own programme of full-day classes in 1938-9, which included drawing from clothed models.[5] It is to the later period that Collins attributed her own works in ink, and this must include both Another World and The Prophecy (Tate Gallery T07195).


The main details of Another World were mapped out in pencil on thin machine-made paper of the same type used for The Prophecy and The Fool, c.1940 (private collection).[6] The artist has suggested that this paper was supplied in the Dartington classes.[7] Black ink was applied with a pen - at times scratching after running dry - in order to create the carefully hatched elements. The absence of any revisions reflects the preliminary pencil drawing but also suggests an interpretable esoteric imagery. Certainly an exchange seems to be taking place between the contrasting rounded female to the left and the flattened clown-like figure to the right. The triangular form of the woman’s face recalls the portrayal of Collins by her husband - such as found in The Artist and his Wife, 1939 (on long loan to Tate Gallery L01478)[8] - suggesting her presence as protagonist. The figure in the starred costume is deliberately disjunctive in form and in the relation of parts: hatched edges to the body are shown as if cut from something flat and the angular limbs do not correspond to each other. The figures’ contact is established by the undulating lines which flow across a chequerboard between them; below a stream pours out under a central oval crossed by eight lines and seemingly over the linked barriers which define the constricted space of the action. The shafts from the upper right reinforce the sense of captivity.


The general impression is of the passage of an aura from one figure to the other, which is suggestive of the female protagonist’s entry into another realm. While acknowledging that the title, Another World, was not contemporary with the drawing but conceived for its exhibition in 1996, the artist has spoken of the image constituting a ‘magic world’ to which access is gained through painting.[9] She associated this with an exploration of an inner being expressed through the use of symbols: the central oval with crossed lines was identified as a Holy Grail, a key to all knowledge, while the chequerboard is reminiscent of the esoteric number board in Albrecht Dürer’s famous engraving Melancholia I.[10]


The context in which Another World was made was complex. The artist
acknowledged the liberating influence of Surrealism in the late 1930s; she attended the opening of the International Surrealist Exhibition in 1936, in which her husband’s work was shown.[11] Interest in the visionary potential of art was prevalent in Dartington circles, from the dedication of Tobey and Bernard Leach to the Bahá’í faith (based upon the unity of all faiths) to the exploration of myth and folklore by Heckroth and the resident Jooss Ballet. In 1939, the ballet company produced A Spring Tale which has been described as a ‘kind of pilgrimage to spiritual consummation and ecstasy’.[12] The physicality of the ballet and Heckroth’s designs interested Collins, and may be related to the gesture and costume of the clown-like, or harlequin-like, figure in Another World. In relation to a similarly costumed figure in her drawing The First Fool, 1939 (private collection),[13] she has recalled that ‘Heckroth saw it and was enchanted. He eagerly talked about the Fool and its implications, about the need of its magic in our time’.[14] She seems to have developed the theme in such ink drawings as The Fool, c.1940 (private collection).[15]


Collins’s drawing The First Fool was acknowledged as the source of inspiration for the long exploration of the emblematic figure of the Fool undertaken by Cecil Collins in painting and in writing, culminating in his text of 1944: The Vision of the Fool (1947). On many levels Collins’s work is close that of her husband. In style and technique, Another World is close to the hatched ink drawings which he made in 1940, such as Landscape with Heads (Tate Gallery T01905) and The Oracle (private collection);[16] they are even on the same size and quality paper. Furthermore, their visionary imagery is closely comparable, notably in the rays and flows by which immaterial emissions are made visible. Another World appears to be more contemplative and less apocalyptic than these drawings which seem to reflect the anxieties of the time as the German army advanced through Continental Europe.


Matthew Gale
Oct. 1997


[1] Elisabeth Collins, interview with the author, 26 Feb. 1996
[2] Mark Tobey, quoted in Michael Young, The Elmhirsts of Dartington: The Creation of an Utopian Community, London 1982, p.222
[3] Elisabeth Collins, interview with the author, 8 Mar. 1996
[4] Mark Tobey, letter to Cecil Collins, undated [after Sept. 1939], Tate Gallery Archive 723.4.2.1917
[5] Elisabeth Collins, interview, 8 Mar. 1996
[6] Repr. Elisabeth Collins, exh. cat., England & Co., London 1996, p.4, no.7
[7] Elisabeth Collins, interview with the author, 17 Oct. 1997
[8] Repr. Judith Collins, Cecil Collins, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London 1989, p.45 (col.)
[9] Elisabeth Collins, interview, 17 Oct. 1997
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] David Mellor, ‘The Body & The Land: Neo-Romantic Art and Culture’, A Paradise Lost: The Neo-Romantic Imagination in Britain 1935-55, exh. cat., Barbican Art Gallery, London 1987, p.20
[13] Repr. Elisabeth Collins: Gouaches, Drawings and Sculptures, exh. cat., Albemarle Gallery, London 1989, p.5
[14] Elisabeth Collins, ‘Cecil Collins: A Memoir’, The Vision of the Fool; Early Drawings by Cecil Collins, exh. cat., Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London, 1991, pp.9-10
[15] Repr. Elisabeth Collins, exh. cat., England & Co., London 1996, p.4, no.7
[16] Repr. Judith Collins 1989, p.105, no.89

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