Cecil Collins's gramophone

Cecil Collins’s gramophone

© Tate Archive
Tate Archive TGA 200015

When asked to choose an item from our archive acquisitions for 2000, I decided upon this gramophone, once belonging to the artist Cecil Collins. My job for the past year has been to catalogue the archive of Cecil and Elisabeth Collins, and this item immediately caught my attention. Belonging to our largest collection of Collins material, TGA 200015, this gramophone was played during Collins’s life drawing classes at Central School of Arts and Crafts London where he would play Eastern and Oriental music to inspire and his students. Collins was much loved as a teacher during his time at Central, a position he filled from 1951 until his death in 1989. So much so that when the college asked him to retire in 1975 his students rose up in rebellion on his behalf. And even though his contract was renewed for another year, the battle had to be fought again with each new generation of students marching and demonstrating, and with correspondence in national newspapers supporting his cause. In a way, the gramophone is symbolic of Collins unique teaching methods. One of Cecil Collins’s former students, Ian Hopton, has written a book about his teaching methods, Archetypal Postures: In the Process of Creativity, in which he describes Collin’s use of music during life drawing classes at the City Literary Institute, London: ‘Some time later he would introduce music, played prior to each pose, and the students and the model would be asked to stand and move in response in whatever manner they felt appropriate. Such movements were naturally limited to the upper body and arms due to the limitations of space but within that constraint there was surprising scope for improvisation. At a certain moment Cecil would say ‘stop’ at which point the model would freeze and the students would sit down and draw according to the new instructions.’ As well as his gramophone, TGA 200015 boasts a wealth of original artwork by Cecil Collins, including prints, paintings, sketches, drawings, tapestries, and various printing blocks and lithographic plates. The collection also consists of correspondence, photographs, poetry and writings, press cuttings, exhibition catalogues, and printed material. Furthermore, this vast collection of Collins material is augmented by our other Collins holdings, namely TGA 923, and TGA 952, the former containing the majority of the correspondence to Cecil Collins. This gramophone highlights the unorthodox yet inspirational teaching style of Cecil Collins which endeared him to his students, many of whom have adopted elements into their own teaching methods. Can you remember a teacher that inspired you? TGA 200015

Written by Andrew Neilson