Cecil Collins

Landscape of the Threshold


Not on display

Cecil Collins 1908–1989
Oil paint on board
Support: 1070 × 1230 mm
frame: 1234 × 1388 × 75 mm
Bequeathed by Elisabeth Collins, the artist's widow, through the Art Fund 2001

Catalogue entry


Oil on board, 1071 x 1222 mm (42 3/16 x 48 1/8 in)
Inscribed by the artist in brown oil paint ‘Cecil Collins 1962’ bottom right
Inscribed across back in black oil paint ‘“LANDSCAPE OF THE THRESHOLD” (1962) | By | CECil COLLiNS | August 21st 1962 | 35 SElWyN GARDENS | CAMBRIDGE | ENGLAND | Size 4FT x 3FT, 6ins’; in blue ink ‘L (58)’ top left; in black chalk ‘C5073’ top centre; and in red-orange paint, ‘Cecil Collins | 47 PAULTONS SQUARE | Chelsea | LONDON SW3’ bottom left
Inscribed by the artist in ink on seven labels: ‘<...> | PLEASE DELIVER | TO | PLEASE HANDLE | WITH GREAT CARE | FRAGILE SURFACE’, ‘47 PAULTONS SQUARE | CHELSEA | LONDON SW3’, ‘PRIVATE | COLLECTION’, ‘To Cecil Collins | RetRospective Exhibition | 1936-1968 | Hamet gallery | 8 Cork St, LONDON W.1. | October 31st-November 25th | 1972’, ‘“LANDSCAPE OF the ThReshoLD” | (1962) | By | CECiL CoLLiNS | size: (H 42 ins x 48 ins W)’, ‘PRIVATE | COLLECTION’, ‘Cecil CoLLiNS | 47 Paulton’s Square | Chelsea | London S.W.3’
Bequeathed by Elisabeth Collins, the artist's widow, through the National Art Collections Fund 2001

The artist
Elisabeth Collins, the artist’s widow

Cecil Collins: Recent Paintings, Arthur Tooth and Sons, London, Feb.-March 1965 (23, repr.)
Cecil Collins: Drawings, Watercolours, Gouaches and Paintings 1936-1968, Hamet Gallery, London, Nov. 1972 (18)
Cecil Collins: A Retrospective Exhibition, Tate Gallery, London, May-June 1989, Southampton City Art Gallery, Aug.-Sept., Mostyn Art Gallery, Llandudno, Sept.-Oct. (41, repr.)
Cecil Collins: Full Circle, Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, Nov. 1990-Jan. 1991 (45)

Anon, ‘Mysticism in Painting’, The Times, 8 March 1965, p.14
Robin Skelton, ‘The Vision of Cecil Collins’, The Malahat Review, no.13, Jan. 1970, p.62
William Feaver, ‘London letter [review]’, Art International, vol.17, no.1, Jan. 1973, p.33, repr. p.32
Kathleen Raine, Cecil Collins: Painter of Paradise, Ipswich 1979, p.23
William Anderson, Cecil Collins: The Quest for the Great Happiness, London 1988, p.51, 97, 102, 160, 173, pl.68 (col.)
Judith Collins, Cecil Collins: A Retrospective Exhibition, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London 1989, pp.21, 89

Cecil Collins, The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings, ed. Brian Keeble, Ipswich 1994, p.157, pl.13

The liquid handling and defining details of Landscape of the Threshold are consistent with Collins’s technique of the Matrix, also used for The Golden Wheel, 1958 (Tate T00431). The soft Sundeala board was sized and primed before a spontaneous preliminary phase, which involved rubbing dilute orange and purple oil paint into the surface. A secondary phase was then undertaken, in which the three figures in doorways were secured. The figures were painted in orange and with white, which was thickly applied and flattened off - perhaps with a knife. Reds and pale blues were used to outline the doorways, but then painted over in black, reducing the visible colour range. This limited palette is characteristic of many Matrix works. The black has run down from the left hand figure. This may be a consequence of the final liquid application of blue to the sky, which appears to have been rubbed around the resolved details (puddling at the left edge). The overall effect of the paint is highly transparent and glossy.

The date (21 August 1962) inscribed on the reverse suggests the speedy resolution of Landscape of the Threshold. Together with the address (15 Selwyn Gardens by then renumbered 35), this places the work in Cambridge during Collins’s summer holiday from teaching. In this period, he was using the fluency of the Matrix technique as the basis for paintings in which visionary figures predominate. Kathleen Raine has identified those in Landscape of the Threshold, as ‘three angelic figures, guarding three doors, the gateways between worlds. Beyond these doors is the divine sun, pouring out the river of light. From that world all that is impure is turned back by the swords of the Angels’.[1] This reading must have been informed by the artist, as both William Anderson and Judith Collins have described the figures in almost identical terms.[2] However, these commentators were able to add that Collins saw each angel as having a particular role. Judith Collins identified them, from the left, as Purification, Justice and Love; Anderson differed only in seeing the first as Knowledge. The combative character of these emblematic figures is echoed in the ominously winged figure of The Guardian of Paradise, 1963 (private collection).[3]

Beside this symbolic content, the figures have been individualised. Their grouping and diminishing size in the painting suggests a hierarchy. The figure set apart at the left appears to have the features and halo of Christ, and to bear the crown of thorns seen in Collins’s Christ Before the Judge, 1954 reworked 1956 (private collection).[4] Such an identification might be appropriate in equating this figure with Purification and Knowledge (or enlightenment). While acknowledging the precedent in Christ Before the Judge, Elisabeth Collins has expressed uncertainty over this interpretation, noting that Christ was more likely to be protected by the ‘guardians’ than serving as one.[5] Of the other figures, the features of that on the right, identified with Love, are reminiscent of Elisabeth Collins, while the basic form of the central figure may have been established with the help of a scant sketch.[6] This shows a figure in a landscape, with birds and an aeroplane above; the latter, an unusual interpolation of mechanised society, did not appear in the painting.

Two texts by the artist may help to elucidate Landscape of the Threshold. A typed sheet of ‘Iconographical notes’ amongst Collins’s papers, includes under the painting’s title: ‘The journey of Return - Ritual - Preparation - Initiation - Purification - Ecstasy’.[7] This sequence of states, suggestive of pilgrimage, identifies the threshold as the opening onto a higher consciousness. The armed figures of the painting seem certain to turn back the ‘impure’, while its structure and colouring suggest that this is a passage through death, with ecstasy only assured in the next world. Collins explored a number of related ideas in a lecture, ‘Art and Modern Man’, given in July 1963 and published the following year.[8] Writing in Jungian terms of art as a process of metaphysical transformation, he noted that the ‘longing to awake and journey back to the centre ... is one of the great themes of art, this feeling which Mircea Eliade so rightly calls “nostalgia for Paradise”’. He identified the artist as having a privileged view - through the archetypal world of the human psyche - of the energies of this centre ‘transforming all the worlds through love, death and transfiguration’.[9] The final stage of this mystical process seems to be embodied in Landscape of the Threshold.

Matthew Gale
July 1998

[1] Kathleen Raine, Cecil Collins: Painter of Paradise, Ipswich 1979, p.23.
[2] William Anderson, Cecil Collins: The Quest for the Great Happiness, London 1988, p.97; Judith Collins, Cecil Collins: A Retrospective Exhibition, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1989, p.89.
[3] Reproduced in colour in Judith Collins 1989, p.51, no.42.

[4] Reproduced ibid., p.50, no.34 in colour.
[5] Elisabeth Collins, interview with the author, 17 October 1997.
[6] Sketch, Tate Archive TGA 923.1.2.31.

[7] Tate Archive TGA 923.2.1.25:3.
[8] Collins, ‘Art and Modern Man’, July 1963 published in Tomorrow: The Journal of Parapsychology, Cosmology and Traditional Studies, vol.12, no.4, Autumn 1964.
[9] Cecil Collins, The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings, ed. Brian Keeble, Ipswich 1994, p.90.

You might like

In the shop