Technique and condition

‘The Saint, the Artist, the Poet, and the Fool, are one’, wrote Cecil Collins (1908-1989), ‘They are the eternal virginity of spirit, which in the dark winter of the world, continually proclaims the existence of a new life... the coming of light’ (in Cecil Collins: A Retrospective, Tate Gallery, London, 1989, p.36). The figure of the poet recurs in Collins’ work, representing a force of positive energy in the darkness of the material world.

The Poet, (1941) is painted in oil paint on linen canvas stretched on a wooden stretcher. The canvas is composed of fine threads with an open weave. This provides a matrix for the application of ground, but does not provide much physical support for the layers of paint. A few threads have some damages and the canvas is embrittled and discoloured. As well, the presence of three handwritten labels glued to the reverse of the canvas have caused some distortions on the front. The linen canvas was prepared commercially with gesso, but may have been mounted on its stretcher by the artist. There is a pencil line along the reverse cut edges indicating the size of the desired canvas piece, however, the cut edges are uneven.

The commercial preparation layers on the canvas include a thick layer of animal glue size which fills many of the canvas thread interstices. This layer, combined with the thin canvas and uneven paint layers, will make the painting extremely susceptible to changes in relative humidity. The priming layer is a thick, even layer of lead white oil paint. This light grey layer is well bound and in good condition. There are a few minor cracks along the tacking edges.

The paint covers the priming entirely. The texture of the canvas is apparent where the paint is thin. Complex layers of paint are built up over flat, initial, paint layers. These are covered with areas of low impasto and scumbles of thin colour (glazes, scumbles, body colour and detailing). For example, in the sky, a layer of thin paint is covered with thicker streaks of white paint. The white paint forms areas of low impasto with a soft, rounded profile. The paint appears to have been brushed on and then textured with a brush and a blunt point. A blue scumble lies over the thin paint and has built up in the interstices, leaving the thread junctions bare.

Layer structure can occasionally be distinguished by the paint thickness. For example, the legs were painted first, then the grey cloth covers them, with the leg profile visible underneath due to its thickness and crisp edge.

The red lines appear to have graphite underdrawing – this is a potential candidate for infrared analysis.

The paint contains isolated agglomerates that form lumps on the surface. There are a few minor drying defects in the paint including one area of wrinkling paint and two patches of drying cracks. There are several small damages and losses to the paint layer, but it is in good condition overall.

The surface has a satin finish, with regions of lower saturation. There is no complete layer of varnish across the surface, however, there appears to be local areas where a transparent surface coating (possibly glair) was applied. These areas will be analysed.

Patricia Smithen
April 2001