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Collection Description

This collection of Works of Art by Cecil Collins presents a record of the exhibition "Fools and Angels", held in the Lethaby Gallery, Central St Martins College of Art and Design, London, in September 2009.

There follows here a short biography of Cecil Collins, written by Muriel Maufroy for the occasion of the exhibition.

Cecil Collins RA (1908 - 1989)

A student at the Plymouth School of Art (1927-31). He taught part time in various places including the Central School (1951-89). Known for his mystical and visionary painting Collin's classes at Central were unique and he attracted many students, teaching until shortly before his death. There is a substantial collection of material on Cecil Collins in the History of the College Achive. Although this wasn't shown in the "Making their Mark" exhibition in the Lethaby Gallery (at Central Saint Martins), it did feature in the touring version of the same exhibition.

Cecil Collins was born in Plymouth on 23 March 1908. 

After studying at the Plymouth School of Art, he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art where he was to meet his wife, Elizabeth, whom he married in 1931.

His first one man exhibition opened at the Bloomsbury Gallery, London in 1935.  The outbreak of war found the couple in Dartington Hall (Devon) where Collins started teaching and where he met the artist Mark Tobey who became a good friend.  In 1942 he began his essay “The Vision of the Fool” which was to be published in 1947. 

Exhibitions follow in Cambridge and London.  In 1951 Collins begins part-time teaching at the Central School of Art and Design where he continued tutoring until his death in 1989.  In 1959 he has a major retrospective of his work at the Whitechapel Gallery, London. 

The 1960’s see Collins sharing his time between painting, teaching and lecturing: at the Tate Gallery and Dartington Hall.  In 1970 he moves permanently to London and begins teaching at the City Literary Institute. 

His altarpiece ‘The Icon of Divine Light’ is consecrated at Chichester Cathedral on 3 November 1973.  In 1979 he is awarded the MBE.  A year before, the film ‘The Eye of the Heart’ by Stephen Cross – commissioned by the Arts Council – had presented his work to a greater audience.  In 1984, ‘Fools and Angels’, a documentary about his work and teaching is presented on BBC 2 television; several exhibitions take place: at the Tate Gallery, at Anthony d’Offay Gallery, at Plymouth Arts Centre, at Aldeburgh.

In 1987-88 Collins designs the stained glass windows on the West side of the church of St Michael and All Saints, Basingstoke, the two side panels consisting of images of angels, and the large centre piece representing ‘The Mystery of the Holy Spirit’, all of them realized by the eminent stained glass artist Patrick Reyntiens.  He celebrates his eightieth birthday in 1988 and the same year is elected to the Royal Academy. 

A year later in May, Collins attends the opening of a major retrospective of his work at the Tate Gallery.  He dies a few days after, on 4 June 1989. 

Muriel Maufroy, 14th September 2009

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