Cecil Collins



In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Cecil Collins 1908–1989
Lithograph on paper
Image: 304 × 254 mm
Bequeathed by Elisabeth Collins, the artist's widow, through the Art Fund 2001


Collins pursued his vision of a lost paradise, destroyed by the mechanisation of the modern world, throughout his lifetime. Creating his own versions of archetypal figures, such as the Fool and the Angel, he attempted to reveal to us our innermost selves. These figures, he believed, represented an innocence that had ceased to exist in the ‘Machine Age’ (Keeble, p.73). Many of Collins’ aims and beliefs were promoted in an essay he titled The Vision of the Fool which was first published in 1947. Throughout the essay Collins links 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’ (quoted in Keeble, p.73).

Heads were recurring images in Collins’ prints and drawings. In an interview in 1979 he said, ‘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’ (quoted in Keeble, p.120). Collins created this rich and powerful image of a head by means of lithography. This was the perfect vehicle of expression for much of Collins’ work since he could make prints from an image drawn directly. Morphet wrote that: ‘The improvisatory potential of lithography was specially suitable to Collins at a moment when he wished simultaneously to unwind, to experiment, and to explore new directions’ (Morphet, p.19).

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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