James Collinson Biography

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 James Collinson (1825-1881)

The least known painter member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, James Collinson would have met Millais, Rossetti and Hunt as fellow students at the Royal Academy Schools. Born on 9 May 1825 in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, where his father was a bookseller and printer, Collinson was living in London by 1846, when he exhibited a study of a head at the Society of British Artists. He was a member of the Cyclographic Society in the summer of 1848, and was proposed by Rossetti as a member of the Brotherhood.

A quiet and nervous young man, he was teased by Hunt for his lack of camaraderie, needing "to be waked up at the conclusion of the noisy evenings to receive our salutations". A convert to Roman Catholicism, he returned to the Church of England in order to be accepted as Christina Rossetti's financé, having first proposed marriage in 1848; the engagement ended in the spring of 1850, when Collinson reverted to the Roman faith and resigned from the Brotherhood on the grounds that he could not, "as a Catholic, assist in spreading the artistic opinions of those who are not". He produced The Child Jesus, one of the four etchings in The Germ, and his most important painting in the Pre-Raphaelite style was also of a religious subject, An Incident in the Life of Queen Elizabeth of Hungary (1850).

In 1853 Collinson entered the Jesuit College at Stonyhurst as a novice, but abandoned training for the priesthood by early 1855. There is evidence that he continued to paint during this time, and he exhibited again at the Royal Academy from 1855. The domestic genre subjects on which his reputation as a painter still rests, such as For Sale, show brilliant finish and dexterity, but little intellectual Pre-Raphaelite purpose.

In 1858 he married Eliza Wheeler, apparently the sister-in-law of the Catholic painter JR Herbert (1810-1890), and moved to Epsom, Surrey. Relations with William Michael Rossetti had been restored sufficiently for Collinson to provide pictures for the Exhibition of British Art which toured America in 1857-58. Collinson was a regular exhibitor at the Society of British Artists, and is said to have acted as its secretary from 1861 until 1870. Occasional visits to France included an extended stay in Brittany in the late 1870s, where his son Robert was a student. He had returned to London by 1880, and died of pneumonia in Camberwell on 24 January 1881.

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