CAS Permanent Collection . Henry Collins

Biography

Henry William Collins was a painter, graphic designer and teacher, born at 25 Bergholt Road, Colchester in 1910, the son of Henry Percy Collins, a gas fitter and his wife Marie née Beagley, who married at Colchester in 1909. Henry studied at Colchester School of Art and the Central School, London and in 1935 started his career by designing a poster for London Underground entitled Cheap Return Fares printed by Waterlow & Sons Ltd (see link below).

During World War II he served with the Royal Artillery and the Royal Engineers, and after the war worked as a freelance designer, establishing himself as a professional artist.  After a commission by the Central Office of Information for the Festival of Britain in 1951 (1), he was commissioned for a series of exhibition designs and murals together with his wife, fellow artist Joyce Millicent Pallot (q.v.) whom he met at Colchester School of Art in 1932 and married at Tendring, Essex, in 1938. Henry and Joyce were to live and work together for the next 56 years. Together, in the 1970s, they worked on a large number of concrete and mosaic murals (2) for public and commercial buildings. They signed these collectively as “Henry and Joyce Collins”. Some of the murals can be seen in Colchester and in other locations in the United Kingdom (see list below) (3). There are some in the USA, Japan and Belgium as well (see below).

Collins was also an educator, teaching part-time in the Graphic Design Department of St Martin’s School of Art, London, for 25 years as well as at Colchester School of Art and various adult education centres. In 1946 with John Nash (q.v.) and Cedric Morris (q.v.) Collins founded Colchester Art Society, for which he designed the logo, which has been used ever since. He was made an Honorary Member in 1972. He also designed the poster for Colchester Art Society’s first exhibition at Colchester Castle where he exhibited with his wife Joyce Pallot. Collins lived in Lexden Road (No 195), Colchester, with his wife Joyce. They had a son, Nicolas. Collins died in July 1994 at Colchester. A memorial exhibition was held at Essex County Libraries in 1995-1996.

Statement

This is a late work by Collins and the only known etching by the artist. It was donated by Ian Hay who worked at St Martins School of Art with Collins while both were based in Colchester. In fact it was on Collins’ instigation that Ian Hay joined Colchester Art Society. Ian had begun teaching at Colchester School of Art in the 1970s and when a position became vacant, it was he who invited Collins to join him teaching there.

Collins had expertise in a multitude of media and techniques, but had never made any etching before. In Ian’s own words (4), this is what happened next: “I prepared him a steel plate and told him to go off and do something, and we’d take a print the following week. Collins went to the Hilly Fields (5) and made a drawing of the town skyline, which he then transferred onto the plate. The result demonstrates incisive draughtsmanship, economy of selection and an intuitive command of the etching medium”.

Ian also recalls that Collins made only two or three prints, during Line Drawing classes’ coffee breaks, and gave one to Ian, who in turn donated it to the Colchester Art Society permanent collection. This is a rare work by Collins, most certainly the only etching plate he ever made.

Prospect of Colchester represents the town from Hilly Fields as mentioned above. It includes important Colchester landmarks such as the Jumbo Water Tower on the right, St Peter’s Church, Colchester Town Hall, St Mary’s Hospital in the centre and the 6th Form College and the GPO (General Post Office) building on the left. One can also see on the right the Dutch Quarter with its distinctive gabled houses.

Sylvia St George (q.v.) painted a similar view in 1936, entitled Colchester from the North owned by the Victor Batte-Lay Foundation (see link below), with intensification of the greenery.

Selected murals and works

  • In Colchester:

(about 20 murals including some in underpasses built during the development of Southway, an inner relief road in town)

    • St Boltoph’s Circus underpass
    • Crouch Street underpass to mark the site of the Crouched Friars friary
    • Façade of the Sainsbury’s supermarket in Priory Walk
    • Three Reliefs originally made for Colchester’s British Home Stores façade in 1976, removed during the redevelopment of the Lion Walk Shopping Centre in 2009, restored by firstsite and relocated at Fifteen Queen Street, an artistic community centre, in 2012
    • Marks Tey Motor Hotel, Colchester
  • In the UK:
    • Hamtun Street, Tudor House and Garden, Southampton (history of the city)
    • Newcastle Through the Ages, Primark, Newcastle, 1974
    • Shell Centre, London
    • GPO Tower (now BT Tower), London
    • Grosvenor House, London
    • Ind Coope Brewery, Burton
    • Philips Data Systems
    • Cwmbran Arts Trust, Wales
    • IBM, London (40 pictures, some 4 feet tall)
    • Stockport British Home Stores (history of the city)
    • Buckhurst Place, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex

Also Gloucester, Hitchin, Worcester and Cowley (Oxford) 

  • The rest of the worldJamestown Festival, USA
    • Brussels Expo, Belgium
    • Expo ‘70, Osaka, Japan
    • Dublin, Eire

Selected exhibitions of paintings and drawings

Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibitions, 4 times

Colchester Art Society

Hatfield Hines Gallery, Fakenham, Norfolk

Hayletts Gallery, Maldon, 1994

Ipswich Art Club, 1977

The Minories, Henry and Joyce Collins with Andrew Dodds, 1962; Henry and Joyce Collins, 1967; Henry and Joyce Collins, 1972 and 1974; Paintings in oils, watercolour-gouache by Henry Collins/ Joyce Pallot – Paintings, 1977; Paintings, Watercolours, Designs, a Retrospective, joint exhibition with Joyce Pallot, 1984

Paintings in public collections

Sheepen, Colchester, Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service

Bibliography

BUCKMAN, David, Dictionary of artists in Britain since 1945, Art Dictionaries Ltd, Bristol, 1998, p. 281

Links

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(1) Together with Joyce Pallot (q.v.), they created a mural for the Sea and Ships Pavilion.

(2) They produced more than 60 murals, but never worked on the sites themselves. Instead they used a regular contractor who cast the concrete in panels around four feet square and put the murals into place. The reliefs were made in reverse, and then concrete was poured into plastic moulds, which were then broken to release the concrete murals. Later the couple used wooden moulds which could be re-used.

(3) By the end of the war as many as a thousand murals were made in the UK as a product of the post war building boom.

(4) Ian Hay wrote an article on Henry Collins’s Prospect of Colchester, in CAS’s Newsletter, dated June 2012.

(5) Hilly Fields is an 80 acre reserve, listed as an Ancient Monument, close to Colchester Town centre.

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