Cecil Collins

Fool Carrying a Child

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Cecil Collins 1908–1989
Etching on paper
Image: 220 × 152 mm
Bequeathed by Elisabeth Collins, the artist's widow, through the Art Fund 2001


This simple etching drawn in a way that resembles an early German woodcut, depicts the archetypal figure that Collins called a ‘Fool’ carrying a very small child past some kind of tent in the background. In 1942 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). The Fool became a recurring image for Collins, appearing in many of his paintings and prints as an innocent figure that, although having no place in modern society, has the vision which is necessary to find fulfilment and eventual reward.

The child was also a recurring figure in Collins’s work. Collins perceived the child, like the Fool, as an innocent victim of modern society. A similar work with the same title drawn in 1962 depicts the Fool holding a child upright walking past a built up city (private collection, reproduced in Anderson, pl.42). The meaning of both these images can be explained by referring to a painting of 1943 entitled The Pilgrim Fool. In this work the Fool and Pilgrim are conflated into one figure. He looks down at the small, long-haired girl he is leading away from the burning city in the background (private collection, reproduced Collins, p.82). Collins explains that in this image the child ‘is his own soul, his anima, the most valuable of his possessions which he is saving from the destruction and violence in the distance’ (Collins, p.82).

Collins experimented with several different print-making processes, including lithography and roneo printing. He often created images of startling intensity through his technique of dense black lines and clear outlines.

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

Heather Birchall
September 2002

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