‘Natural piety’ and sentiment: children, landscape and religion in the paintings of William Collins, R.A. (1787-1847)

Bean, Alan Sigmund Jocelyn (2024). ‘Natural piety’ and sentiment: children, landscape and religion in the paintings of William Collins, R.A. (1787-1847). University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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Very little has been written about the work of the painter William Collins, R.A. (1787-1847) despite the fact that his contemporaries considered him to be one of the leading artists of his time. Most of his paintings are unknown to modern scholarship, with the result that an assessment of his significance for nineteenth-century British art has never been properly undertaken. Whilst a number of his contemporaries, such as David Wilkie, William Mulready, Charles Lock Eastlake, William Dyce and John Rogers Herbert have been the subject of detailed examination, and their contributions recognised, Collins has not.

This thesis fills that gap in art historical scholarship of the period, first by identifying as many of Collins’s paintings as possible, and then by undertaking a close reading and detailed visual analysis of them. It establishes the links between his painting and the social, literary and religious cross-currents of his time, and demonstrates that Collins was actively involved in the fields of genre, landscape and coastal painting, and that in all these fields he gave children an unusual agency. Between 1838 and 1843, during the first phase of the Oxford Movement, he produced a series of paintings which reflected major Tractarian pre-occupations. During that same period, towards the end of his life, he painted a number of biblical subjects which demonstrate that he was at the forefront of attempts to establish a distinct Protestant approach to religious art. Many features found in his approach were adopted a few years later by members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood who knew the Collins family well.

I conclude that the currently understood histories of nineteenth-century British art need re-evaluation, so as to include Collins’s significant contributions to landscape painting, the portrayal of children, paintings of the coast, and religious art of the period. I also make the case for regarding Collins as a Pre-Raphaelite precursor.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of Languages, Cultures, Art History and Music, Department of Art History, Curating and Visual Studies
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
N Fine Arts > ND Painting
URI: http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/14655


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