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James Collinson (British painter) 1825 - 1881

James Collinson, who was the son of a bookseller living in Mansfied, Nottinghamshire, came to London to train as an artist at the Royal Academy Schools. Making contact with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt, in 1848 he was invited to become a founder member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Although he resigned in 1850, on the grounds that as a Roman Catholic he was at odds with the artistic purposes of the Protestant members of the group, he continued to paint works recognisably in sympathy with the principles of Pre-Raphaelitism, notably An Incident in the Life of St Elizabeth of Hungary (Johannesburg Art Gallery). In 1852 or 1853 he gave up art to become a working brother at the Jesuit monastic house of Stonyhurst, where he remained until 1855. Although no longer in contact with the Pre-Raphaelites, he resumed a career as a painter, exhibiting genre subjects – usually showing children and often intended as a social commentary or referring to contemporary events – at the Royal Academy, British Institution, and Society of British Artists. Collinson's extraordinary technical skill and his feeling for the textures and colours of interiors coupled with a particular sympathy for the disadvantaged in society, make his works invaluable and reliable sources of information about the lives of ordinary people in the period. Works of this type include The Emigration Scheme (Lord Lloyd-Webber collection), of 1852, and The Writing Lesson, of 1855. In 1858, which was the year of his marriage to Eliza Henrietta Ann Wheeler, the sister-in-law of Collinson's fellow Catholic painter J.R. Herbert, he exhibited eight works at various London and provincial exhibitions, including subjects showing street vendors Four a Penny and An Apple Woman . Shown at the British Institution that year along with Short Change was the distressing subject Leaving Home , which showed a young woman setting off from her country homestead to be employed as a servant. It was said of Collinson in 1850 that, 'after this year [he] made up his mind to cut the Wilkie style of art for the early Christian'. However, in the course of the mid-1850s, he tended to revert to compositional formats that may be recognised as owing much to the Wilkie tradition, and to the Netherlandish seventeenth century, in which the observation of people of all types in the immediate settings of their daily lives was considered a legitimate artistic purpose. When the painting Short Change was shown at the British Institution in 1858, the reviewer of the Art Journal considered the 'subject [...] scarcely worth a thought from an artist with such a power of execution as we see here, but the principles of the composition are worthy of Teniers'. Collinson successfully combined such vivid documentation of the mundane and diurnal with humour. In Short Change he carefully documents a sparsely furnished interior with few comforts. Returning from a trip to the market, the by is made to account for the money he has spent. In his left hand he conceals a whistle from the view of the woman who receives the shopping and who believes she should expect change. As W.M. Rossetti observed of the work by his erstwhile Pre-Raphaelite brother (and incidentally the onetime suitor of his sister Christina Rossetti): 'There is real comic spice, too, in the exacting dame and the defaulting young sinner of an urchin'. 

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