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.
Stripped Tree Trunk
Besides large murals, both Henry Collins and his wife Joyce Pallot worked on smaller scale paintings, prints, and collages. Stripped Tree Trunk provides a fine example of such work. Here Collins’s strong sense of structure and design combined with a fine eye for colour is especially evident. There is a similar oil painting, entitled Colne Willow, in a private collection, also painted at about the same time. This watercolour painting is most likely therefore to be of the same subject, a willow tree along the river Colne.
As well as the countryside Collins loved the coast - its people architecture and industry - and he painted many views of Harwich, Felixstowe and Dovercourt, as well as views of further afield, places such as Wales and Tyneside. There he often used collage as well as paint and a predominant royal blue which gave the paintings a cheerful quality. He painted oil still-lifes too and although his later compositions became freer, they still retained linear movement as is the case here.
The Pond at Lexden
Henry Collins lived in Lexden Road, Colchester, for many years and depicted a number of views of the area. There is another drawing, painted earlier in 1948, of Lexden in Colchester Art Society collection [CAS 57], entitled Garden, Lexden. Although the subjects are very similar there is a striking difference between the two drawings, which show the evolution of the artist’s development from near surrealism to virtual abstraction.
This drawing represents the Pond in Lexden Park, around which a number of large houses were built in the 18th century. The Park itself was also created at that time. In the mid-20th century the Pond became part of the garden of the house of the High Steward of Colchester, Sir Percy Saunders. It is now a designated conservation area.
This drawing was executed two years after the foundation of Colchester Art Society. It is very different toThe Pond at Lexden [CAS 56], a drawing of a similar subject carried out eighteen years later and much more abstract. Here, in Garden, Lexden, we see the influence of Paul Nash's surrealistic approach. Garden, Lexden is not so much the picture of a garden as the "portrait" of a broken tree. Here, Collins uses the same symbolic language as Paul Nash in Shell Bursting (see link to the Victor Batte-Lay Foundation website) or Wire (see link to the Imperial War Museums' website) both painted in 1918, where the trees represent humans. In the same way as Paul Nash's trees conveyed a sense of desolation, here the tree is a vision of destruction, although not on the same violent scale. Here it is nature and not man thet causes destruction. We can also see here the influence of Cubism and Vorticism, which produced powerful and confident landscapes, as also adopted by Paul Nash.
Note: This work was bought following an exhibition at the Minories Art Gallery in 1977 (see below).
It was exhibited at The Minories, Colchester, April 3 – May 1st 1977 Paintings in oils – watercolour - gouache by Henry Collins/Joyce Pallot – Paintings (No 12) (4)
Colne from West Bergholt
This image of farmland outside West Bergholt, a village lying near the border between Essex and Suffolk where Henry Collins lived for many years, stands near the river Colne which runs through Colchester and old Lexden, the name ' Bergholt' meaning wood on a hill ' in Anglo Saxon. Broken up into rectilinear areas through the carefully-placed geometric lines, the composition recalls the influence of Cezanne and the early twentieth century Cubist painters, such as Braque, Juan Gris and Picasso, who set the standard of Cubist landscape painting. Although there is a suggestion of depth and recession, the flatness of the canvas dominates the picture.
Prospect of Colchester
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 (5), 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 (6) 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
(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 world
Jamestown Festival, USA
Brussels Expo, Belgium
Expo ‘70, Osaka, Japan
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
BUCKMAN, David, Dictionary of artists in Britain since 1945, Art Dictionaries Ltd, Bristol, 1998, p. 281
(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) Although the dimensions are not the same it is most certainly the same painting.
(5) Ian Hay wrote an article on Henry Collins’s Prospect of Colchester, in CAS’s Newsletter, dated June 2012.
(6) Hilly Fields is an 80 acre reserve, listed as an Ancient Monument, close to Colchester Town centre.