Elisabeth Collins

The Prophecy


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Elisabeth Collins 1904–2000
Ink on paper
Image: 508 × 381 mm
Purchased 1996

Catalogue entry

Elisabeth Collins 1904-2000

The Prophecy c.1940


Pencil and ink on paper 508 x 381 (20 x 15)

Inscribed on back in pencil ‘1’ t.l., ‘49’ t.r.

Purchased from the artist, 1996

The artist, purchased through England & Co., London, 1996

Elisabeth Collins, England & Co., London, Sept.-Oct. 1996 (54, as ‘The Prophecy’)

The Prophecy was made in essentially the same way and at about the same time as Another World (Tate Gallery T07194), while Collins was living at Dartington Hall in Devon. The same paper was used for both drawings, as well as for The Fool, c.1940 (private collection),[1] and the artist has recalled that a supply was available in the Dartington art classes led by Hein Heckroth and Cecil Collins after 1939.[2] In common with The Fool, the handling of The Prophecy is rather looser than Another World, with the forms on a larger scale. The details were prepared in pencil before being worked in ink, Collins’s preferred medium at this time; a broad-nibbed pen was used for the main forms, with a finer nib used for the cross-hatching around the edges.

The main image of The Prophecy is dominated by the confrontation of a partial figure and a dove. The bird is carefully stylised, while the figure emerges from an inscribed block, raising its right hand in a powerful two-fingered and thumbed salute. Otherwise limbless, the figure has flowing locks and a curiously crowned head which unites it with other hatted figures in the repertoire of both Collins and her husband: the clown-figure of Another World and, in Cecil Collins’s work, the Fool of The Sleeping Fool and the King in The Quest (Tate Gallery N06036 and L01477). The crinkled and circular forms and the shallow space of the setting are reminiscent of elements in the Cubist paintings readily available at Dartington in 1940 through a series of exhibitions drawn from the collections of Roland Penrose and E.L.T. Mesens; the second of these covered the range Before Cubism - Negro Art - Cubism and Chirico (Barn Studio, Dartington Hall, May-June 1940). Collins was already familiar with such developments, but this provided unparalleled and intimate access to major avant-garde works. Although the early paintings of Giorgio de Chirico were included in these displays, the curious salute in Collins’ The Prophecy may reflect her wider knowledge of his work of the mid-1920s. It is found in a number of his images from that period which were illustrated in both Jean Cocteau’s and Roger Vitrac’s monographs;[3] the Collinses owned a copy of the latter. De Chirico claimed enigmatic and metaphysical meanings for his images which may have proved attractive in the artistic milieu at Dartington.

Although the title is not contemporary with the drawing (being devised for Collins’s 1996 exhibition), the image seems to convey the revelation of The Prophecy. Retrospectively, the artist observed that it showed the ‘powers of good’ contending with evil and noted that the figure may be ‘in command or calling up’ these forces.[4] This may suggest that the dove embodied good confronted by the fragmented ‘modern’ surroundings, and that the prophetic figure is ambiguous in its militaristic salute. In any case, the context of contemporary wartime events imbues the presence of the dove with an optimistic prophecy of peace.

Matthew Gale
Oct. 1997

[1] Repr. Elisabeth Collins, exh. cat., England & Co., London 1996, p.4, no.7
[2] Elisabeth Collins, interview with the author, 17 Oct. 1997
[3] Jean Cocteau, Le Mystère laïc: Essai d’étude indirecte avec cinq dessins de Giorgio de Chirico, Paris 1928, p.29; Roger Vitrac, Georges de Chirico, Paris 1927, p.49
[4] Elisabeth Collins, interview, 17 Oct. 1997

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