Monday 6 August 2012

The Other Brother

Spot Quiz, Hotshots!  Name all the original members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood....

Well, there's these three....

Yes, well we can name Johnny Millais, Mental Hunt and Rossetti, but what about the others, the rest of the magnificent seven?  Well, there was this bloke...

Not overly prepossessing, but this is a portrait of William Michael Rossetti, brother of the above Rossetti, and he was the non-practising member of the Brotherhood.  He had an actual job and stuff, so did recording, organising, looking after the teafund, that sort of thing.  Oh, and then you had the one that did sculpture...

Thomas Woolner was a sculptor who met with so little success that he emigrated to Australia in 1852 and was the inspiration for the painting The Last of England by Ford Madox Brown.  He came back after a year but had gained enough commissions and inspiration to make a go of it this time and became a very successful sculptor of heroic statues and friezes, including the Manchester Assizes.  Obviously, there's this Brother (fans and smelling salts at the ready, ladies)....

Oh Swoony Fred Stephens, how we love that makes six, who is number seven?  I always forget him and so in an effort to make myself look less of a fool in front of people, and to pass on the wealth of useless knowledge I accrue in the process I bring you James Collinson, the Other Brother!

Undated Self Portrait
I suddenly realised that I had not the slightest clue what Jimmy Collinson looked like, and I'm not overly convinced this is him, but it was the only picture I could find.  He's somewhat elusive, on the whole.  Born up in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire on 9th May 1825, his father had been a farmer but became a book seller, raising the family up in the world.  James had two siblings, Mary and Charles, James being the youngest child, born when his mother was 40.  Robert Collinson, James father, obviously did well enough to send his young son down to London to the Royal Academy.  James had exhibited his first picture, The Charity Boy's Debut in 1847, which made him the most established painter (if not the most famous, which would arguably be Millais, who was no doubt painting masterpieces in the womb) in the original line-up of the PRB.

The Charity Boy's Debut
James' father died in 1845and his elder brother Charles took over the bookseller's business in Mansfield, while James set about establishing himself in London.  He fell in with a rum lot, Millais, Holman Hunt and Rossetti and together with a couple of other chums they formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

James may have had an ulterior motive for becoming chums with Rossetti.  James Collinson was a devout Catholic, but converted to Anglicanism in order to get closer to a certain young lady...

Christina Rossetti (1849)
17 years old Christina had noticed James at Christ Church in Albany Street and in particular 'his heedful and devout bearing' (obviously what attracted me to Mr Walker, the state of his bearings) and so James not only gained six brothers, he gained a fiancee as well.  Christina went as far as to stay with the Collinson family in Nottinghamshire, spending time with both his widowed mother and sister, learning lacemaking, then with his brother and his wife in the bookshop.  This rather splendid site lists places and people that may have influenced the work of Christina while she visited James' family.  The fact that she travelled and made the effort with his relatives showed that there was a definite intention to marry, but alas Millais managed to break up someone else's relationship, again.

It was all going so well.  Collinson painted possibly his best known Pre-Raphaelite work, The Renunciation of St. Elizabeth of Hungary in 1850.

The Renunciation of St. Elizabeth of Hungary (1850)
That is an exceptionally vibrant pictures, very beautiful, with all those strikingly colourful gowns and ermine.  Well, good old Collinson hit the nail on the Pre-Raphaelite head with this one, sharp, bright and tight, bit medieval, bit religious.  He was getting on well with Christina, repressing his Catholicism nicely, when along comes this....

Christ in the Carpenter's Shop (1849-50) J E Millais

All of a sudden people were questioning these young upstarts: Were they mocking religion?  Were they mocking Mr Jesus and his weird looking mum?  Collinson had a crisis in confidence, manifesting around his latent catholicism and he ended his relationship with all three Rossettis.  Out of the brotherhood and away from Christina, Collinson went out on his own...

In a rash move, he sold all of his paints and brushes and decided to train for the priesthood, but that did not last.  He returned to painting and married a Catholic, ElizaWheeler in 1858.  Eliza was the sister-in-law of John Rogers Herbert, a painter whose work had influenced the Pre-Raphaelites.

Our Saviour Subject to his Parents at Nazareth (1847) John Rogers Herbert
When Collinson returned to his painting career he became known for secular genre pictures, inoffensive and now quite well known.  You'll recognise the next pair from a recent post...

I should really just label these 'Willing for a Shilling, parts one and two'.  These two are probably the best known, but he also did other pictures of an equally crowd-pleasing nature...

Private and Confidential
Such works are light-hearted, prettily painted and convey a moral message without moralising.  He spent some time in his later life in Brittany, where he returned to religious works, such as The Holy Family...

The Holy Family (1878)
He was secretary to the Society of British Artists from 1861-1870, and lived a well-to-do life with his wife and son Robert Vincent Collinson.  James Collinson died in 1881, the year before Rossetti, aged only 55.  His widow lived until 1 January 1894, and left £2259 in her Will to her son, Robert.  Robert never married, doing his parents proud by becoming a Catholic priest, and living until 1930, when he died in St Mary's Convalescent Home in Worthing, leaving his £5000 savings to a fellow priest, Peter Emmanuel Amigo.

So, poor old Collinson.  He died young, he lost his nerve and he's the least memorable of the Magnificent Seven who set up the art movement we all adore.  I bet people think that Walter Deverell or Ford Madox Brown are members of the original line-up, rather than Collinson.  If you had to name people who almost married Christina Rossetti, I bet most people would name John Brett before James Collinson.  However, he was there at the beginning and for that we should be grateful and remember him.  I hope that I have helped anyone who had difficulty in remembering Collinson will remember him now.  Including me.


  1. Thanks for another fascinating post. I've often wondered why Christina Rossetti never married. For some reason I had assumed that she had broken the engagement because of the chap's lack of Christian commitment. It seems to be the opposite i.e. the chap got scared off by the PRB's irreligious ways - which seems a bit hard on Christina who I gather was very devout all her life. It is a pity that "he lost his nerve" (not just from Christina's point of view). He clearly had great skill as an artist whereas some of those later paintings look like they have Hallmark's logo on the back.

  2. PS, I will be in Bournemouth next week so am hoping to visit the Russell-Cotes Gallery! Looks like they have an interesting exhibition about the Queen

  3. Dear Woof, jolly good stuff too. Enjoy the Russell-Cotes! Say hello to Venus for me :)

  4. There's something, um, damning or something like that about the way Collinson's Holy Family comes across as sort of a mash-up of the Alba Madonna and the Sistine Madonna (with accessory Joseph from who-knows-where). Nothing says "I'm not pre-Raphaelite" quite like copying Raphael, after all.

  5. Well, definitely by 1878 he had departed the Brotherhood (mind you, so had Millais) and gone his own way, so an embrace of Raphael is entirely in keeping. It's difficult to imagine quite how scared he was by Millais' pictures of the holy family and the outrage it sparked, let alone when Hunt started making them all look Jewish. Heavens! Where would it end!

    Thanks for your comment!


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx