Cecil Collins

Landscape: Nocturne


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Cecil Collins 1908–1989
Ink and watercolour on paper
Support: 239 × 312 mm
Bequeathed by Elisabeth Collins, the artist's widow, through the Art Fund 2001


This unusual image depicts a huge head sitting upright like a sphinx in an imaginary landscape setting. The detail with which the head has been drawn contrasts with the sweeping brush strokes used to paint the earthly coloured landscape and vast expanse of sky. The isolated head was a recurring feature in Collins’s paintings and prints from the 1930s. Two pictures which date from the 1940s, The Island (Tate P01898) and Landscape with Heads (Tate T01905), are similar in the placement of heads detached from their bodies in the natural setting which surrounds them.

The head took on a particular significance for Collins. He described it thus: ‘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).

Further reading:
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
October 2002

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