View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
Collins pursued his vision of a lost paradise, destroyed by the mechanisation of the modern world, throughout his lifetime. Creating his own version of archetypal figures, such as the Fool and the Angel, he attempted to reveal to us our innermost selves. These figures, he believed, represented an innocence that had ceased to exist in the ‘Machine Age’ (Keeble, p.73). Many of Collins’s aims and beliefs were published in an essay he titled The Vision of the Fool which was first published in 1947. Throughout the essay Collins compares the Fool with the ‘Saint, the artist, the Poet’ (Keeble, p.81). He explains, ‘modern society has succeeded very well in rendering poetic imagination, Art, and Religion, the three magical representatives of life, an heresy; and the living symbol of that heresy is the Fool. The Fool is the poetic imagination of life, as inexplicable as the essence of life itself’ (Keeble, p.73).
Collins has blended an unusual mixture of graphic media in this image. He painted a resinous substance over the surface so that the watercolour is dispersed into a texture of bubbles. This was used, as Judith Collins explains, in a few of his drawings in the 1930s to lend an air of ambiguity to his work (Collins, p.102). Heads were recurring images in his prints and drawings. In an interview in 1979 he elucidated: ‘For me the head is the combination, or climax, or the flowering of the human nature. In the head is condensed and focused the whole reality of the person. That’s why I think I’ve done so many heads. To me it’s the most beautiful part of the human body. In fact you can say the head is the theatre of the soul’ (quoted in Keeble, p.120).
William Anderson, Cecil Collins: The Quest for the Great Happiness, London 1988
Judith Collins, Cecil Collins: A Retrospective Exhibition, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1989, no.79, reproduced p.102