Cecil Collins

The Fool


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Cecil Collins 1908–1989
Roneo print on paper
Image: 305 × 133 mm
Presented by Elisabeth and Cecil Collins 1981


Cecil Collins 1908-1989

The Fool 1944


In 1942 Collins began writing The Vision of the Fool. First published in 1947 this essay highlighted his vision of what he described as the ‘mechanical jungle of the contemporary world’ (quoted in Keeble, p.74). Throughout the essay Collins links the Fool with the ‘Saint, the artist, the poet’ (Keeble, p.81) as the saviours of life. 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’ (Keeble, p.73). The fool became a recurring image for Collins, appearing in many of his paintings and prints as an innocent figure who, although having no place in modern society, has the vision which is necessary to find fulfilment and eventual reward.


In this image (identical to Tate P11844) the Fool walks along carrying a heart in one hand and an owl in the other. The bird represents freedom, for, as Morphet explains in a catalogue essay written with the approval of the artist, birds ‘occupy the ether, the symbol of pure life and light’ (Morphet, p.18). Morphet further describes the Fool himself: ‘He is sprouting antenna-like forms which receive spiritual vibrations and relate to the finials which surmount St Mark’s Basilica in Venice and are known as ‘the language of the angels’ (Morphet, p.19).


The technique Collins used involved a wax paper stencil through which the ink was rolled straight onto the paper. Not usually used making for works of art, this duplicating process was a common piece of office equipment before photocopiers. He may have adopted this unusual method because all the equipment required could be carried in a small box, an advantage when the artist was frequently travelling from place to place (Morphet, p.16).


Further reading:

Richard Morphet, The Prints of Cecil Collins, London 1981, pp.18-19, illustrated, p.18

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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Catalogue entry

P11018 THE FOOL 1944

Inscribed ‘Cecil Collins 1944’ bottom left and ‘13/30’
Roneo, printed and published by the artist, 12×5 1/4 (30.5×13.3)
Presented by Elisabeth and Cecil Collins 1981
Lit: op.cit., no.19

[no further details]

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

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