Cecil Collins



In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Cecil Collins 1908–1989
Lithograph on paper
Image: 405 × 305 mm
Bequeathed by Elisabeth Collins, the artist's widow, through the Art Fund 2001


Sybils, the women prophets of Greek and Roman legend, frequently appeared in Collins’s paintings and prints. He recounted in an interview in 1979: ‘They [Sybils] seem to be visions of certain functions of the feminine soul – prophetic, oracular, sometimes coming out of caves, guardians of altars, uttering prophesies. They are, as it were, the voice of the unknown or entries into the unknown land, guarded in my paintings, I think seldom by a man but practically always, by a woman or an Angel’ (Cecil Collins, ‘Theatre of the Soul’, interviews, 27 September and 13 October 1979, Keeble, p.121).

Collins pursued his vision of a lost paradise, destroyed by the mechanisation of the modern world, throughout his lifetime. Creating his own version of archetypal figures, such as the Fool and the Angel, Collins 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’s aims and beliefs were promoted in an essay he titled The Vision of the Fool, which was first published in 1947. This essay, written during World War II (1939-45), affirmed the importance of the divine imagination, and has led Anderson, amongst others, to claim that Collins is the ‘most important metaphysical artist to have emerged in England since Blake’ (Anderson, p.11).

In this bold and simple lithograph Collins has drawn quickly the Sybil seated, facing to the left. She may be wearing a large hat. Collins experimented with several different print-making processes, including etching and roneo printing. Morphet commented 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
Brian Keeble, The Vision of the Fool and other Writings, Ipswich 1994

Heather Birchall
October 2002

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