Cecil Collins

The Divine Land


Not on display

Cecil Collins 1908–1989
Gouache, watercolour and ink on paper
Support: 406 × 584 mm
Purchased 1981

Display caption

Collins was a highly idiosyncratic artist, whose work was full of personal symbolism. He believed that we are all pilgrims on a journey back to the Paradise that we once knew, and that one of the functions of art was to help us on this journey. From the 1960s onwards Collins painted grand images of angels as spiritual messengers of light and love. This picture depicts an angel flying over a mountain, which has the form of a transparent curtain. The suggestion is that the angel's movement will cause the curtain to blow aside. For Collins, curtains represent a kind of gateway to the treasures of childhood or a divine state.

Gallery label, September 1999

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Catalogue entry


Gouache, watercolour and ink on paper, 407 x 585 mm (16 x 23 1/16 in)
Inscribed by the artist in brown ink ‘Cecil Collins 1979’, bottom left

Purchased (Gytha Trust) 1981

Acquired from the artist by the Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London from whom purchased, 1981

Cecil Collins: New Works, Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London, Oct.-Nov. 1981 (51)
The Hard Won Image: Traditional Method and Subject in Recent British Art, Tate Gallery, London, July-Sept. 1984 (39, col. repr. p.24)
Cecil Collins: A Retrospective Exhibition, Tate Gallery, London, May-June 1989, Southampton City Art Gallery, Aug.-Sept., Mostyn Art Gallery, Llandudno, Sept.-Oct. (141, repr.)

Tate Gallery Report 1980-1982, London 1982, p.87
Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, London 1984, pp.71-3 (repr.)
Philip Vann, ‘The Poet’s Vision’, The Artist, vol101, no.1, Jan. 1986, p.7
William Anderson, Cecil Collins: The Quest for the Great Happiness, London 1988, pp.153, 160, repr. p.20, pl.6
Judith Collins, Cecil Collins: A Retrospective Exhibition, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London 1989, p.121

‘Cecil Collins, Theatre of the Soul. A Conversation with Brian Keeble’, Temenos, no.1, 1981, opposite p.77, pl.10
Janet Watts, ‘A Portrait of the Artist and his Worldly Dealer’, Observer, 1 Nov. 1981, p.26 (seen with the artist)
Cecil Collins, The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings, ed. Brian Keeble, Ipswich 1994, p.166, pl.22

The Divine Land was painted over a period of two weeks in Collins’s studio at Paultons Square, Chelsea. The thick hand-made paper of a creamy white colour was washed with ochre watercolour. White gouache was used over this wash for the light bursts above the mountains and other details. The landscape and the angel were then painted in a red-brown ink. Around the wings of the angel the ink has bled into the wet watercolour below, but elsewhere the adhesion between paint layers has been weak, resulting in the ink flaking off the gouache.[1]

The painting was the subject of an interview with Collins shortly after its purchase;[2] his replies provided the material for the extensive entry in Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2.[3] As with The Angel of the Flowing Light, 1968 (Tate T03971), the importance of the archetype of the Angel in Collins’s work was discussed as a mediator between metaphysical and everyday realities. The artist was quoted as specifying that the image was ‘a kind of fresh, first birth of the image of an angel, the form emerging into your consciousness’, and that it represented ‘a magical view of the universe. The feeling of freshness is like opening the eyes and seeing the world for the first time. There is no age and no decay in my work. It is the youth of the world’.[4] The angel’s body was described as heart shaped. An early form in Images in Praise of Love, 1936 (private collection)[5] anticipated the association of the angel with love in The Divine Land, where the ‘theme is the echoing vibrations of love ... The newly-formed body of the Angel culminates in the head, like a flower, as do the mountains when they burst into flame’.[6]

This idea of ‘birth and realisation of a vision’ was related, in the entry, to the identification of the time of day in The Divine Land as dawn. This was compared to the potential in works such as The Promise, 1936 (Tate T01692) where the flowering mountains were also found. The mountains in The Divine Land produce circular bursts of light which are echoed in that on the angel’s chest: ‘The whole landscape responds. It is the vision, a state of being’.[7] Collins indicated that the angel caused the curtain over which it flies to tremble, instigating the unveiling which lays bare the vision of the landscape beyond. This relates to the curtain in the near contemporary drawing, The Healing of the Sanctuary, 1976 (Dartington Hall Trust),[8] and to the idea of his work as an ‘object of contemplation and thus of transformation’.[9] The artist also posited that the ‘extreme drama and the extreme calm’ of the moment of transformation achieved a ‘balance of opposites’.[10]

It may be added that the form of the angel’s body resembles that traditionally given in Renaissance paintings to Cherubim and Seraphim, whose bodies are made up of paired wings. The form was taken up in The Music of the Kingdom, 1986 (collection Mr and Mrs Thomas E. Worrell Jr.)[11] which is closely comparable to The Divine Land in detail and composition. In the saturated yellow typical of the period, it features a pair of angels, with light bursts on their chests, set against a range of mountains topped with light wheels. The unveiling of The Divine Land is seen as achieved in The Music of the Kingdom.

Matthew Gale
March 1996

[1] Tate conservation files

[2] Interview with Richard Morphet, 8 Oct. 1982
[3] Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, London 1984, pp.71-3
[4] Ibid.
[5] Repr. Judith Collins, Cecil Collins: A Retrospective Exhibition, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London 1989, p.79, no.11
[6] Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, pp.71-3

[7] Ibid.
[8] Repr. Judith Collins 1989, p.119, no.135
[9] Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, pp.71-3
[10] Ibid.

[11] Repr. Judith Collins 1989, p.95, no.58

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