Elisabeth Collins

Listening Woman

c.1970

Medium
Gouache on card
Dimensions
Image: 543 x 417 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1996
Reference
T07197

Display caption

Elisabeth Collins initially trained as a sculptor, attending the Royal College of Art from 1928-31. Whilst there she met the painter Cecil Collins, whom she married in 1931. 'Listening Woman' was painted in about 1970, when the couple returned to London and Elisabeth resumed her artistic development. The painting has a strong, very personal visionary aspect. The figure, with head upturned, is depicted in a moment of spiritual revelation and the heavily worked paint presents an outward expression of this interior process. Collins combines pale blues and greys with vivid oranges and yellows in a way that is intended to stimulate new emotions and thoughts in the viewer.

Gallery label, September 2004

Catalogue entry

Elisabeth Collins 1904-2000

Listening Woman c.1970

T07197

Gouache on paper 543 x 417 (21 3/8 x 16 3/8)

Inscribed on back of cardboard in pencil ‘Simbols | of Spring’, and ‘66’

Purchased from the artist, 1996

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

Exhibited:
Elisabeth Collins, England & Co., London, Sept.-Oct. 1996 (22)

Listening Woman typifies Collins’s use of gouache as she returned to painting once again around 1970 on her move to London. The strong colouring and the sense of the composition emerging from the working of the paint are common to a number of other paintings. Similarly, the colouristic contrast of orange and yellow against purple recurs in her work and that of her husband during this period establishing a warmth and vibrancy. The artist has commented on the ‘wonderful colours you can get by layering by accident - and not by accident. You wait and let colours settle, and often all sorts of things emerge’.[1] She has indicated that she favoured gouache over oil paint because of the changing quality of the colour as it dries, which stimulates different responses in the developing image.[2] The physical layering is evident on close inspection of Listening Woman, with the main yellows and oranges being laid over one of grey, white and purple in the formation of the figure. Around the head a halo of colour, where green and rose are evident in a heavily lined area, may have been achieved by washing away thicker paint; this effect is made more concentrated by the overlaying of a more opaque grey around the edge of the sheet. The details of the head are repeatedly worked. The neck continues into the area where an ear might be expected in a series of alternating ribs of colour; the uplifted chin and the facial features are drawn in black, with the nose shifted considerably to the left and the earlier form acting as a cast shadow. This mobility of forms may be the residue of the process of ‘evolving from something different’ hinted at by the artist.[3]


In the pose of the uplifted head, the painting suggests the reception of a message or inspiration. Although the title was devised in 1996, when the work was exhibited, the artist felt it appropriate for ‘the strong spiritual quality’ it captured.[4] In talking of the appearance of heads in her work, she has referred to them as ‘aspects of oneself, they’re not trying to be of somebody else. Some are taken from the mirror’.[5] Such a preoccupation echoes the role which she played in the work of her husband. Her observation prompted Philip Vann to comment: ‘This interior search through mirroring exterior nuance has happened only because the artist has been able to abandon any tendency towards conventional, solidified self-identity and any preconceptions about herself. Hence the marvellously fluid freshness and clarity of these self-characterisations, each representing a totally unique person seen and created anew’.[6]


Matthew Gale
Oct. 1997


[1] Philip Vann, ‘Introduction’, Elisabeth Collins, exh. cat., England & Co., London 1996, pp.4-5
[2] Elisabeth Collins, interview with the author, 17 Oct. 1997
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Vann 1996, pp.4-5
[6] Ibid.