Cecil Collins

A Fool Dancing


Not on display

Cecil Collins 1908–1989
Ink on paper
Image: 227 × 297 mm
Bequeathed by Elisabeth Collins, the artist's widow, through the Art Fund 2001


This monotype depicts a Fool dancing around a head of a woman placed in the centre of an empty room. The Fool, wearing a pointed hat and matching costume, appears to be holding a mirror and looking at his reflection. A similar print, The Joy of the Fool, depicts a Fool with his arms raised above his head dancing around the Tree of Life (Tate P01899). Both Fools and Heads were recurring features in Collins’s paintings and prints. In an interview in 1979 Collins described his numerous drawings of heads: ‘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’ (Keeble, p.120).

In 1942, one year after this print, Collins began writing The Vision of the Fool. First published in 1947 this essay highlighted his vision of what he described as the ‘mechanical jungle of the contemporary world’ (Keeble, p.74). 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). In Collins’s paintings and prints, therefore, the Fool is always an innocent figure who, although having no place in modern society, has the vision which is necessary to find fulfilment and eventual reward.

Further reading:
Richard Morphet, The Prints of Cecil Collins, London 1981
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
Brian Keeble, The Vision of the Fool and other Writings, Ipswich 1994

Heather Birchall
October 2002

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