27 January 1850, the English painter John Maler Collier was born in London.
"Imagination is not antagonistic to knowledge. On the contrary, the highest imagination is that which can assimilate all kinds of knowledge and make use of it as a vantage ground from which to soar to higher things." (John Collier)
|John Collier: "Lady Godiva" (1898)|
|John Collier: "A Glass of Wine with Caesar Borgia" (1893)|
Ironically enough, the original Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of Rossetti, Millais, Holman Hunt et al had virtually dissolved, when Collier was just three years old. “To have genuine ideas to express; To study Nature attentively, so as to know how to express them; To sympathise with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art, to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parodying and learned by rote; And, most indispensable of all, to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues” was their wonderfully quirky manifesto, vivid colours, Romantic exaltation of mental states and a sometimes ruthless realism their trademark, Shakespeare and Keats, medieval history and legends their counterdraft to the infatuation with the narrative of Classical antiquity of Academic art, imagined life captured and mirrored with the craggy bloom of Gothic architecture and symbolic stylization of Medieval and early Renaissance imagery instead of the accommodatingly curved and mannerly coloured creations of the Academics. Two generations after the Brotherhood had split and “every man for himself” became the motto, the seeds for the development of trends coining the mindset of late Victorian and early Edwardian art were sown, Symbolism, Aestheticism, Arts-and-Crafts, Decadence and Art Nouveau and even the so-called “problem pictures”. With depicting “Christ in the House of His Parents” in 1850, sans transfiguration, realistically, almost like slum dwellers with Mary “....so hideous in her ugliness that ... she would stand out from the rest of the company as a Monster, in the vilest cabaret in France, or the lowest gin-shop in England”, at least according to Charles Dickens, Millais had not only caused a scandal but set the pace for depicting realities that existed beyond the walls of the academies and studios or fashionable West End addresses. Nothing too harsh, mind you, but usually everyday drama, contemporary, more often than not, that usually confronted the viewer with a narrative hinting at several possible backgrounds and outcomes of the displayed dilemma. Collier did a few of these, along with portraits of some of the age’s most iconic personages, writers, actors, politicos, soldiery, royalty and besides that, he was one of the last of the Pre-Raphaelites.
|John Collier: "The Prodigal Daughter" (1903)|
Aside from a personal tragedy or two, Collier led a remarkably uneventful life for a notable 19th century artist. Admittedly, the days, when the artistic approach of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were considered avant-garde and quite shocking were over for at least two decades, but still, marrying first one and then, after her sister’s death, the other daughter of “Darwin’s Bulldog” and grandfather of “Brave New World” Aldous, Thomas Henry Huxley, can be considered as mostly harmless in contrast to, e.g., the exploits of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who, admittedly, was avant-garde during his life and times. A secular morality, more or less Darwinian views on life and death and a general agnosticism from the Huxley mint did not do his popularity as one of England’s foremost painters at the turn of the century any harm either. It had become quite a custom among the brainy types anyway. The Edwardian wilderness of post-war England and the final triumph of the new modernist age sounded the bell for Pre-Raphaelite narratives and imagery along with those of Academic Art. Rossetti and his successors and epigones, Collier among them, were quite forgotten until the postulated New Age of the 1960s and the newly found and yet unbroken infatuation with myths and epics of the following ages to this day resurrected the images of King Arthur and his Knights, Greek priestesses and moribund medieval ladies from the Brotherhood’s canvasses.
|John Collier: "The Laboratory" (1895)|
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