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Charles Allston Collins, the youngest of the two children of the painter William John Thomas Collins (1788–1847), and his wife, Harriet Geddes Collins (1790–1868), was born on 25th January 1828 at Pond Street, Hampstead. His brother, Wilkie Collins, was born in 1824.
At the age of nineteen Collins entered the Royal Academy Schools where he formed lasting friendships with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, and became associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The critic, John Ruskin, praised Collins's work for "its meticulous attention to botanical detail."
As a young man he had an accident in which he nearly drowned. As a result Collins was petrified by water. Millais later wrote, "One could not induce him to commit his body (for fear of drowning) within a coffin bath of hot water". He remained an extremely nervous man throughout his life. He told Holman Hunt that whenever he tried to paint, he had acute stomach pains and admitted "the extreme suffering and anxiety which painting causes me". Wilkie Collins later explained: "It was in the modest and sensitive nature of the man to underrate his own success. His ideal was a high one; and he never succeeded in satisfying his own aspirations".
Important paintings by Collins included Berengaria's Alarm (1850), Convent Thoughts (1851), May in the Regent's Park (1852), and Good Harvest of 1854 (1855). He also painted the portrait of Georgina Hogarth as Lady Grace (1855). It has been claimed by John Everett Millais that he often left his paintings half-finished. William Holman Hunt noted that "Collins... could have held the field for us had he done himself justice in design and possessed courage to keep his purpose… he continually lost heart when any painting had progressed half-way toward completion, abandoning it for a new subject, and this vacillation he indulged until he had a dozen or more unfinished canvases never to be completed."
William Holman Hunt described Collins as "slight, with slender limbs, but erect in the head and shoulders, beautifully cut features, large chin, a crop of orange-coloured hair (latterly a beard), blue eyes that looked at a challenger without a sign of quailing."
Wilkie Collins introduced Charles Allston Collins to Charles Dickens, who gave him work providing articles in Household Words . Collins first book, The New Sentimental Journey, sketches of his Parisian visits, was serialized between 11th June and 9th July 1859, in Dickens's journal, All the Year Round . Collins also published The Eye-Witness: And His Evidence about Many Wonderful Things (1860).
Collins wanted to marry Dickens's daughter, Kate Macready Dickens. At first Dickens refused permission because he disapproved of Wilkie living with Caroline Graves, a shop girl who had an illegitimate child. Kate was also unsure but as she later recalled, that he had left her mother, Catherine Dickens, after beginning a relationship with Nellie Ternan: "My father was like a madman... This affair brought out all that was worst - all that was weakest in him. He did not care a damn what happened to any of us. Nothing could surpass the misery and unhappiness of our home."
Eventually Charles Dickens agreed to Kate's marriage to Collins. He wrote to his friend, W.W. F. de Cerjat, about his thoughts on the matter: "My second daughter (Kate) is going to be married in the course of the summer, to the brother of Wilkie Collins the novelist. He was bred an artist (the father was one of the most famous painters of English green lanes and coast pieces), and was attaining considerable distinction, when he turned indifferent to it and fell back upon that worst of cushions, a small independence. He is a writer too, and does the Eye Witness in All The Year Round. He is a gentleman, and accomplished.... I do not doubt that the young lady might have done much better, but there is no question that she is very fond of him, and that they have come together by strong attraction. Therefore the undersigned venerable parent says no more, and takes the goods the Gods provide him."
Collins married Kate on 17th July 1860, at Gad's Hill Place. Dickens's biographer, Claire Tomalin , has pointed out: "Kate married Wilkie's brother, Charles Collins, thirty-two to her twenty, a good-natured man but a semi-invalid, who was giving up art to try to write. Dickens blamed himself for Kate's decision, knowing she was marrying without love and to get away from home, but he put on a showy wedding at Gad's with a semi-invalid, who was giving up art to try to write." That evening Mamie Dickens found her father weeping into her sister's wedding dress, and he told her how much he blamed himself for the marriage.
The couple moved to Paris. In December 1860, Kate told her mother-in-law about the early months of their marriage: "To begin at the beginning then, we are economizing. We keep no servant and we do almost everything for ourselves, not everything though, we pay the cook of the house something to wash up the dishes for us, and the servant of the house makes the beds and does the rooms for us, that is to say pretends to do the rooms, really we do them. Without this help of course we should be obliged to keep a servant of our own, as we shall do if we stay here, when we have a little recovered from the expense of our journey. We have cleaned everything with our own hands and have scrubbed away like two hard working servants. We cook our own food, no one in the world could cook a chop better than Charlie does, and I am very great indeed at boiled rice. In the morning Charlie lights the fire and I lay the cloth, while he fries the bacon I make the tea. After breakfast I clear away, put his writing materials out on the table and he sets down to work while I wash up the breakfast cups in the kitchen, put away everything, sweep up the crumbs and the hearth and get the room neat. Then Charlie goes on working all the morning till about two, and I darn, or mend, or write letters. At two we have our lunch, then a little more work & then we go out for a walk, get what things we want for dinner, come in, cook our dinner and eat it."
The marriage was not a success. Gordon H. Fleming, the author of John Everett Millais (1998) claims that "Charles Collins was incurably impotent". This story is backed-up by Peter Ackroyd, in his book, Dickens (1990): "Dickens was very much opposed to the match, not least because he was unsure of Collins himself... It has been suggested that he was homosexual. Kate herself seems to have told her father that her husband was impotent. Certainly they had no children, and in addition he suffered from a mysterious, wasting illness throughout most of their married life."
Collins wrote three novels: The Bar Sinister: A Tale (1864), Strathcairn (1864) and At the Bar: A Tale (1866). Collins remained a valued friend of William Holman Hunt: "He was in many respects a good rein to me, being timid and therefore sure to put on the curb, and who was one of the men I valued in life as thoroughly fearing and loving God through all of his rather eccentric changes in faith. He might now be a better advisor but must not be so. In this world it is evident that the Father would rather we stumbled than walked with leading strings forever."
Charles Allston Collins became extremely ill. Wilkie Collins has pointed out: "The last years of Charles's life were years of broken health and acute suffering, borne with a patience and courage known only to those nearest and dearest to him." It is now believed that Collins was suffering from stomach cancer.
On 20th August, 1869, Charles Dickens wrote to Frederic Chapman inviting him to make a proposal for publishing the new novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. He suggested that it should be published in twelve monthly parts rather than the traditional twenty. The following month he informed Chapman that he had chosen his son-in-law, Collins, to illustrate the book. Michael Slater, the author of Charles Dickens (2009), has pointed out: "Dickens... anxious, no doubt, to put his constantly ailing son-in-law in the way of earning some money... but wanted to see what he could do in the way of cover-design before he was formally commissioned."
Collins designed a cover that Dickens was pleased with. However, soon afterwards he wrote to Frederic Chapman: "Charles Collins finds that the sitting down to draw, brings back all the worst symptoms of the old illness that occasioned him to leave his old pursuit of painting; and here we are suddenly without an illustrator! We will use his cover of course, but he gives in altogether as to further subjects." John Everett Millais suggested to Dickens that he should ask the young artist Luke Fildes to complete the job.
On 7th July, 1867, Dickens told his friend, James T. Fields: "Charley Collins is - I say emphatically - dying. Only last night I thought it was all over. He is reduced to that state of weakness, and is so racked and worn by a horrible strange vomiting, that if he were to faint - as he must at last - I do not think he could be revived."
Charles Allston Collins died on 9th April 1873 at 10 Thurloe Place, South Kensington, aged forty-five, from a cancerous tumour in the stomach.
My second daughter (Kate) is going to be married in the course of the summer, to the brother of Wilkie Collins the novelist. Therefore the undersigned venerable parent says no more, and takes the goods the Gods provide him.
Charley Collins is - I say emphatically - dying. He is reduced to that state of weakness, and is so racked and worn by a horrible strange vomiting, that if he were to faint - as he must at last - I do not think he could be revived. My man came into my room yesterday morning to say 'Mr. Collins, Sir, he is that bad, and he looks that awful, and Mrs. Collins called me to him just now, that brought down by his dreadful sickness. As it has turned me over Sir.' And last night we all felt (except Katie before whom we say nothing) that he might be dead in half an hour.
Charles Allston Collins
Painter and author, second son of William Collins, R.A. [q. v.], showed at an early age inherited gifts in art, which encouraged his father to permit him to study in the schools of the Royal Academy. On completing his education as a student, he attached himself to the once famous 'Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood,' and produced pictures which, after attracting general attention at the Royal Academy, took their place among the deservedly valued possessions of collectors of works of art. But it was in the modest and sensitive nature of the man to underrate his own success. His ideal was a high one and he never succeeded in satisfying his own aspirations. The later years of his life were devoted to literature. In 1860, he married Kate, the younger daughter of Charles Dickens. He was the author of the series of essays (first published in All the Year Round) called 'The Eye-witness' a work distinguished by subtle observation and delicate sense of humour. 'A Cruise on Wheels,' 'A Sentimental Journey,' and two novels, showing rare ability in the presentation of character, steadily improved his position with readers and gave promise of achievement in the future, never destined to be fulfilled. The last years of his life were years of broken health and acute suffering, borne with a patience and courage known only to those nearest and dearest to him. [Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 11]
A younger son of William Collins, born at Hampstead in 1828. He first exhibited in 1847, and gave up the art in 1858. Among the chief pictures exhibited by him at the Royal Academy we may mention 'Convent Thoughts' (1801), 'The Devout Childhood of St. Elizabeth of Hungary' (1852), and 'The Good Harvest of 1854' (1855) which is now at South Kensinigton. He was also an author, and contributed to Household Words and All the Year Round, when the latter was edited by Charles Dickens. He also wrote (in 1863) A Cruise upon Wheels, a clever description of his travels, which met with a deservedly favourable reception, and several novels. He was a younger brother of Wilkie Collins tho novelist, and son-in-law of Dickens, for whom he furnished the illustrated title-page of Edwin Drood' His contributions to All the Year Round are amongst the most charming of his papers. He died after a long illness in 1873.
[Bryan's Biographical and Critical Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, 1901-2]
Charles Allston Collins (British) Born at Hampstead in 1828, son of William Collins, R. A., whose pupil he was. He devoted himself between 1848 and 1888, exhibiting at the Royal Academy works of no little merit, but he turned his attention, over, finally to literature as a profession, painting nothing after younger brother of Wilkie Collins and son-in-law, whom he furnished the illustrated title-page of Edwin Drood.
"Mr. Charles Collins had been bred as a painter, for success in which line he had some rare gifts but inclination and capacity led him also to literature, and after much indecision between the two callings he took finally to letters. His contributions to All the Year Round are among the most charming of its detached papers, and two stories published "showed strength of wing for higher flights." -- Forster's Life of Dickens.
[Artists of the Nineteenth Century and their Works, Clara Erskine Clement and Laurence Hutton, 1879.]
The early life of Charles Allston Collins
Charles was the younger child of his parents, William John Thomas Collins and his mother, Harriet Geddes. He has mainly inherited his talent from his father, who was also a painter. His brother was born in 1824 and he took birth in Hampstead, north of London.
His elder brother, Wilkie Collins was a novelist was educated at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire. Charles joined the Royal Academy Schools at the age of nineteen and got well associated with Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood based on which he later painted the Berengaria’s Alarm.
He had good and long-lasting ties with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais.
It is said that Charles once had an episode of almost drowning in water and as a result of it, he grew a nervous man all through life and had a phobia of water. Charles once shared with his friend Collins that whenever he was completing a painting, he felt acute uneasiness and pain in his stomach. Collins replied to comfort his troubled friend by saying that it was his modest nature and desire to excel his work which never satisfied him.
During his early years as a painter, he fell in love with a woman named Maria Rosie but eventually got rejected. This made him aesthetic and introspective.
Charles Allston Collins - History
CHARLES ALLSTON COLLINS (1828-1873)
Charles Collins aged 5, painted in 1833 by Andrew Geddes (1783-1844)
Charles was Wilkie Collins's younger brother. He was born 25 January 1828 at Pond Street, Hampstead, and named after his father's American painter friend, Washington Allston. Tall and good-looking with red hair and blue eyes, Charles was unlike his brother in character as well as appearance, although they remained close throughout their lives. Charley, as he was known to family and friends, inherited his father's nervous temperament as well as his artistic ability, and suffered from a chronic lack of self-confidence, exacerbated by religious scruples. He never shared the youthful zest for life that was so marked a feature of his brother although as a boy he enjoyed skating and later became a good dancer. He also participated in Wilkie's amateur theatricals, playing the lead in A Court Duel.
In 1843 he became a student at the Royal Academy Schools, where he was a contemporary of Millais and Holman Hunt. He was associated with the foundation of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood although to his great chagrin never admitted to full membership. Nevertheless, he was attacked in the press for Convent Thoughts, the Pre-Raphaelite painting he exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition of 1851.
Charles Collins was said to have been hopelessly in love with his model for Convent Thoughts, Maria Rossetti - the sister of Christina, William and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Maria did not return his feelings and became a nun in an Anglican order. In about 1856 Charles seems to have become entangled with an 'unsuitable' woman of unknown name. John Millais begged Holman Hunt to persuade Charles to give her up. In 1858 he abandoned painting, which he found an increasingly stressful occupation, after struggling for months with The Electric Telegraph. He had enthusiastically begun this work on a modern subject but came to feel, quite irrationally, that it plagiarised Millais's ideas. He turned instead to writing. He contributed individual articles to Household Words, and three series to All The Year Round all later published in book form as A New Sentimental Journey (1859), The Eyewitness (1860), and A Cruise upon Wheels (1863). He also wrote three novels: Strathcairn (1864), The Bar Sinister (1864) and At The Bar (1866).
Charles Collins married Dickens's younger daughter Kate on 17 July 1860. For her going-away dress the bride wore black and Dickens, who felt the marriage was a disaster, was discovered afterwards sobbing into her wedding-dress. There were rumours, believed by the Dickens family, that Charles was impotent. There were no children of the marriage and Kate later said she wished to obtain a legal separation and could have done so, but that her father would not allow it.
In the last ten years of his life Charles Collins was plagued by emotional problems, as well as physical illness finally diagnosed as stomach cancer. In 1870 Dickens asked him to draw the illustrations for Edwin Drood but he was too ill to complete more than the cover of the first number. Charles died on 9 April 1873. Wilkie Collins wrote the entry for the Dictionary of National Biography.
All material in these pages is © copyright Andrew Gasson 1998-2010
Charles Allston Collins (1828 - 1873)
In 1851, Charles was living at home at Hanover Terrace, Saint Marylebone, Marylebone, London & Middlesex, England, with his widowed mother, Hart, brother, William, visitor, Frances Giddes, and two servants, a cook, Fanny Green and a housemaid, Emily Ballard. 
Hart Collins Head Widow Female 60 1791 - Worcestershire, England (Hart is an obvious abreviation for Harriet, the "t" is above the line in the Image.) William W Collins Son Unmarried Male 27 1824 Law Student Marylebone, Middlesex, England Charles A Collins Son Unmarried Male 23 1828 Artist Hampstead, Middlesex, England (Charles written as Chas in Image) Frances M Giddes Visitor Unmarried Female 17 1834 Non St George Hanover Square, Middlesex, England Fanny Green Servant Unmarried Female 25 1826 Cook Essex, England Emily Ballard Servant Unmarried Female 26 1825 House Maid Romsey, Hampshire, England
Charles Collins married Charles Dickens's daughter Catherine, at Hoo in Kent, England, United Kingdom on the 17th of July 1860,   later designing the cover for Dickens' unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
In 1861, Charles was living at 1, Clarence Terrace, St Marylebone, Marylebone, London & Middlesex, England with his wife Catherine and a servant, Mary Bull. 
Charles A Collins Head Married Male 33 1828 Author Journalist Hampstead, Middlesex, England Katherine E M Collins Wife Married Female 21 1840 - Hampstead, Middlesex, England Mary Bull Servant Unmarried Female 22 1839 House Serv Marylebone, Middlesex, England
In 1871, Charles was living at Thurleo Place, Kensington, London & Middlesex, England with his wife Katherine and two servants, Maria Crombie and Emma Pratt. 
Charles Collins Head - Male 43 1828 - Middlesex, England Katherine Collins Wife - Female 31 1840 - London, Middlesex, England Maria Crombie Servant - Female 25 1846 - Kent, England Emma Pratt Servant - Female 19 1852 - Kent, England
Charles Allston Collins passed away from cancer in 1873 at Kensington, London, Middlesex, England  and was laid to rest on the 14th of July in the Brompton Cemetery in London. 
Charles Allston Collins - History
Portrait of Charles Allston Collins
William Holman Hunt (1827-1910)
235 x 210 mm (9 1/4 x 8 1/4 inches)
Signed lower left: "July 1852."
Provenance: by descent in the family of the artist to Diana Holman Hunt, his grand-daughter. With The Maas Gallery, London. Bought as Lot 132, Christie's, 5th December 2013.
Exhibited: Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, and London, Victoria & Albert Museum, "William Holman Hunt," 1969, no. 126. King's Lynn, Fermoy Art Gallery, "The Pre-Raphaelites as Painters and Draughtsmen," 1971, no. 42.
[Click on image to enlarge it.]
Commentary by Paul Crowther
It was very much the practice amongst the PRB and their friends to give "friendship portraits" to one another (for examples, see Barringer et al. 38-40). The present drawing is an example of such a work. Charles Allston Collins (1828–1873) attended the Royal Academy Schools and became a close associate of the PRB. He was actually proposed for membership after Collinson resigned, but William Michael Rossetti and Thomas Woolner voted against him. Holman Hunt later observed that apart from not being known by some of the members, "they suspected he was very much of a conventional man who would be out of his element with us" (Hunt 268 see also Fredeman 78).
It seems, however, that Collins was more sensitive and insecure than he was "conventional." Holman Hunt notes of him also that "Changes in his views of life and art were part of a nature which yielded itself to the sway of the current, and he only ultimately found out how this had led him into unanticipated perplexities" (Hunt 271). Even when rejected for PRB membership, Collins remained close to both Millais and Holman Hunt, socializing with them quite extensively in the early 1850s. He exhibited at the Royal Academy exhibition every year from 1847 to 1855 inclusive, but, by the end of the 1850s had given up painting in favour of writing.
A well-known pencil drawing of Collins by Millais from 1850 (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) presents him looking insecure and slightly neurotic. Holman Hunt's image shows a different aspect&mdashperhaps the aspect that found security through "swimming with the current." The picture might, indeed, be usefully related to Holman Hunt's recollection of Collins from the early 1840s when both were doing studies at the British Museum:
He was then a remarkable looking boy with statuesquely formed features, of aquiline type, and strong blue eyes. The characteristic that marked him out to casual observers was his brilliant bushy red hair, which was not of golden splendour, but yet had an attractive beauty in it. . . While still a youth he imparted to me his discomfort at the striking character of his locks, and was anxious to find out any means of lessening their vividness. (Hunt 271)
Interestingly, an entry in Millais's diary for October 19th 1851, shows how far Collins&mdasheven when a few years older&mdashwould go to control the vividness of his "locks." We are told that "Collins returned with his hair cut as close as a man in a House of Correction" (Millais 126).
Now, how one's hair appears might not seem a matter of great existential consequence at first sight. But it is. The body-image through which we negotiate the world, has to be one that satisfies us. If something feels lacking or excessive about our appearance, then our body image suffers. And if that suffers, then it will tend to link also to other forms of insecurity that we harbour.
Holman Hunt's picture offers a positive expression of body-image. The drawing clearly emphasizes the lushness of Collins's hair, but in a way that presents it as styled and elegantly coiffured rather than "vivid." A body-image feature that Collins himself wanted to control, in other words, is here presented as aesthetically secured.
However, there is still an insecurity in Collins's expression. He may seem fine at this moment, but he appears self-conscious, nevertheless, about how the viewer regards him&mdashin terms of both looks, and as a person. Hunt represents this self-consciousness using a visually risky strategy. Collins is shown with his mouth slightly open&mdasha feature that can easily make a portrait seem awkward. However, in this case, the strategy is a success. For, as well as making Collins's expression more active and directed, the mouth opening is also an event&mdashsomething manifestly transient. Holman Hunt, in other words, renders both Collins's moment of self-consciousness and also its instability&mdashin both general and specific terms. When such moments come, they preoccupy us, but then pass in the flow of experience, and are replaced by other concerns. Holman Hunt's picture hints at this, but also emphasizes Collins as a particular case&mdashas a man whose sense of self is particularly changeable through the pressure of circumstances, and the challenge of his personal insecurities.
The fine psychological balances here are exquisitely sustained by Holman Hunt's broader treatment. He was able to invest painted surfaces with a gentle lustre through fine tonal gradations. This effect is found in some of his more finished drawings also. The present work is a case in point. Its lustre emerges through the quiet play of light across Collins's clothing (especially the bow-tie) and across his face and eyes, as well as his hair. Insofar, therefore, as the overall composition is sustained by these transient light effects, they formally underwrite, also, the impression that Collins's moment of introspection is one caught in passing&mdashsomething fragile and liable to be changed by circumstances.
Holman Hunt has, then, pictorially intervened on his friend's appearance in a positive but truthful way. He presents Collins in a moment of self-questioning whilst emphasizing also the fragility of this state. Of course, whether the picture records actual visual fact or just a possible appearance cannot be determined. Whatever the case, as we have seen, Collins's own confidence in his art did not last. And, sadly, it was left to Hunt to do a death-bed study of his friend in 1873.
You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the Crowther-Oblak Collection of Victorian Art and and the National Gallery of Slovenia and the Moore Institute, National University of Ireland, Galway (2) and link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.
Barringer, Tim, Jason Rosenfeld, and Alison Smith, eds. Pre-Raphaelites. Victorian Avant-Garde . Exhibition catalogue. London: Tate Publishing, 2013.
Bronkhurst, J. William Holman Hunt. A Catalogue Raisonné . Vol. 2. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006. p. 40, no. D 63, illustrated.
Crowther, Paul. Awakening Beauty: The Crowther-Oblak Collection of Victorian Art . Exhibition catalogue. Ljubljana: National Gallery of Slovenia Galway: Moore Institute, National University of Ireland, 2014. No. 59.
Fredeman, William E, ed. The P.R.B. Journal: William Michael Rossetti's Diary of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood 1849–1853 together with other Pre-Raphaelite documents . Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975.
Hunt, William Holman. Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood . Vol. 1. London: Macmillan and Co., 1905.
Millais, J. G. The Life and Letters of Sir John Everett Millais . Vol. 1. London: Methuen and Co., 1899.
Reynolds, G. "The Pre-Raphaelites and their Circle." Apollo June 1971. p. 498, fig. 11.
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- 1 Life and work
- 1.1 Early years
- 1.2 Painting career
- 1.3 Literary career
- 1.4 Later life
Collins was born in Hampstead, north London, the son of landscape and genre painter William Collins. His older brother was the novelist Wilkie Collins. He was educated at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire.
Collins met John Everett Millais and became influenced by the ideas of the Pre-Raphaelites, completing his painting Berengaria's Alarm in 1850. This depicted the wife of King Richard the Lionheart noticing her missing husband's girdle offered for sale by a peddlar. The flattened modelling, emphasis on pattern making, and imagery of embroidery were all characteristic features of Pre-Raphaelitism. Millais proposed that Collins should become a member of the Brotherhood, but Thomas Woolner and William Michael Rossetti objected, so he never became an official member.
Collins fell in love with Maria Francesca Rossetti, but she rejected him. He became increasingly ascetic and introspective. These attitudes were expressed in Collins's best-known work, Convent Thoughts, which depicted a nun in a convent garden. Collins went on to exhibit many highly devotional images.
In the late 1850s, however, he abandoned art to follow his brother into a writing career. His most successful literary works were humorous essays collected together under the title The Eye Witness (1860).
Collins married Charles Dickens's daughter Kate in 1860, and later was engaged to illustrate Dickens' unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood. He completed the cover but was too ill to do the rest. He died from cancer in 1873 and is buried in Brompton Cemetery, London.
Charles Allston Collins - History
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Charles Allston Collins
This picture was probably painted from the artist’s family home in Hanover Terrace in London and shows the view east across Regent’s Park. The minute detail of this urban landscape, presented squarely and with little spatial depth, was considered absurd by critics when it was exhibited in 1852. Charles Collins’s meticulous painting style closely associated him with the Pre-Raphaelites. John Everett Millais proposed him for membership of the Brotherhood in 1850 but he was not accepted. By the end of the 1850s he had abandoned painting to concentrate on writing novels and essays.
Gallery label, November 2016
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T03025 MAY, IN THE REGENT'S PARK 1851
Inscribed ‘CACollins/1851’ bottom right (CAC in monogram) and ‘No.3/May in the Regents Park/Charles Collins/17 Hanover Terrace/R[egent's] Park’ on a label on the back
Oil on panel, 17 1/2 × 27 5/16 (44.5 × 69.4)
Purchased from Richard Green (Grant-in-Aid) 1980
Prov: Said to have been bought at the 1852 R.A. exhibition by a Mr Crooke of Cumberland Terrace, in whose family it remained until the 1940s, when acquired by a private collector who sold it at Sotheby's Belgravia, I October 1979 (2, repr. in colour), bt. Richard Green.
Exh: R.A. 1852 (55).
Lit: Allen Staley, The Pre-Raphaelite Landscape, 1973, pp.83, 91, 150.
The Collins family moved from Blandford Square to 17 Hanover Terrace, Regent's Park in August 1850. ‘May, in the Regent's Park’ was presumably painted from a window at this address, looking eastwards across the park, though a critic in The Athenæum, reviewing the 1852 R.A. exhibition, thought the view was taken from a window in nearby Sussex Place. Collins' title can be taken to refer both to the month of May and to the large bush of pink May or Hawthorn seen in the left foreground.
One of the first Pre-Raphaelite landscapes to be exhibited, ‘May, in the Regent's Park’ was adversely criticised for its emphasis on minutiæ and for its bald design. The Art Journal (1852, p.166) commented on its ‘useless and absurd rules of composition ’, noting the presence of ‘all kinds of inexorable straight lines’. The Illustrated London News (22 May 1852, p.407) suggested that ‘a tea-tray, not a picture-frame’ would be a more appropriate vehicle for it. The Athenæum (22 May 1852, p.582) declared that ‘The botanical predominates altogether over the artistical, - and to a vicious and mistaken extreme. In nature there is air as well as earth, - she masses and generalizes where these fac-simile makers split hairs and particularize’. Nevertheless, Collins appears to have sold the painting . According to the anonymous vendor of the work at Sotheby's Belgravia in 1979, ‘a Mr Crooke who lived in Cumberland Terrace, bought the picture from Burlington House [i.e. The Royal Academy , not then in fact at Burlington House] for £100 in 1851 [i.e. 1852], and it stayed in that family until the 1940's’. Nothing further has been discovered about Mr Crooke.
Collins gave up painting to concentrate on writing in about 1860, the year he married Charles Dickens' daughter Kate. No other landscapes of this kind are known to survive from his brief career as an artist. Until its reappearance at auction in 1979, ‘May, in the Regent's Park’ was itself known only from description.
The Tate Gallery 1978-80: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1981
Watch the video: Charles Allston Collins (May 2022).