Charles Allston Collins

May, in the Regent’s Park

1851

On display at Tate Britain

Medium
Oil paint on mahogany
Dimensions
Support: 445 x 692 mm
frame: 660 x 915 x 90 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1980
Reference
T03025

Display caption

This picture was probably painted from the artist’s family home in Hanover Terrace in London and shows the view east across Regent’s Park. The minute detail of this urban landscape, presented squarely and with little spatial depth, was considered absurd by critics when it was exhibited in 1852. Charles Collins’s meticulous painting style closely associated him with the Pre-Raphaelites. John Everett Millais proposed him for membership of the Brotherhood in 1850 but he was not accepted. By the end of the 1850s he had abandoned painting to concentrate on writing novels and essays.

Gallery label, November 2016

Catalogue entry

T03025 MAY, IN THE REGENT'S PARK 1851

Inscribed ‘CACollins/1851’ bottom right (CAC in monogram) and ‘No.3/May in the Regents Park/Charles Collins/17 Hanover Terrace/R[egent's] Park’ on a label on the back
Oil on panel, 17 1/2 × 27 5/16 (44.5 × 69.4)
Purchased from Richard Green (Grant-in-Aid) 1980
Prov: Said to have been bought at the 1852 R.A. exhibition by a Mr Crooke of Cumberland Terrace, in whose family it remained until the 1940s, when acquired by a private collector who sold it at Sotheby's Belgravia, I October 1979 (2, repr. in colour), bt. Richard Green.
Exh: R.A. 1852 (55).
Lit: Allen Staley, The Pre-Raphaelite Landscape, 1973, pp.83, 91, 150.

The Collins family moved from Blandford Square to 17 Hanover Terrace, Regent's Park in August 1850. ‘May, in the Regent's Park’ was presumably painted from a window at this address, looking eastwards across the park, though a critic in The Athenæum, reviewing the 1852 R.A. exhibition, thought the view was taken from a window in nearby Sussex Place. Collins' title can be taken to refer both to the month of May and to the large bush of pink May or Hawthorn seen in the left foreground.

One of the first Pre-Raphaelite landscapes to be exhibited, ‘May, in the Regent's Park’ was adversely criticised for its emphasis on minutiæ and for its bald design. The Art Journal (1852, p.166) commented on its ‘useless and absurd rules of composition’, noting the presence of ‘all kinds of inexorable straight lines’. The Illustrated London News (22 May 1852, p.407) suggested that ‘a tea-tray, not a picture-frame’ would be a more appropriate vehicle for it. The Athenæum (22 May 1852, p.582) declared that ‘The botanical predominates altogether over the artistical, - and to a vicious and mistaken extreme. In nature there is air as well as earth, - she masses and generalizes where these fac-simile makers split hairs and particularize’. Nevertheless, Collins appears to have sold the painting. According to the anonymous vendor of the work at Sotheby's Belgravia in 1979, ‘a Mr Crooke who lived in Cumberland Terrace, bought the picture from Burlington House [i.e. The Royal Academy, not then in fact at Burlington House] for £100 in 1851 [i.e. 1852], and it stayed in that family until the 1940's’. Nothing further has been discovered about Mr Crooke.

Collins gave up painting to concentrate on writing in about 1860, the year he married Charles Dickens' daughter Kate. No other landscapes of this kind are known to survive from his brief career as an artist. Until its reappearance at auction in 1979, ‘May, in the Regent's Park’ was itself known only from description.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1978-80: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1981

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