A Day in History History

James Collinson

The Sisters (1860)

Early Life

James Collinson was born on May 9, 1825, at Mansfield, Nottinghamshire and was the son of a bookseller. Collinson entered the Royal Academy Schools and was a fellow-student with Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

James Collinson was a devout Christian and became attracted to the devotional and high church aspects of Pre-Raphaelitism.

In 1848, Collinson became a member of the Pre-Raphaelites Brotherhood which was founded by John Everett Millais, Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Other members of the Brotherhood included William Michael Rossetti, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner.

A convert to Catholicism, Collinson reverted to high Anglicanism in order to marry Christina Rossetti (Dante Rossetti’s youngest sister) , but his conscience forced his return to Catholicism in 1850 and the break-up of the engagement.

During his period as a Pre-Raphaelite, Collinson contributed a long devotional poem to The Germ and produced a number of religious works, most importantly The Renunciation of St. Elizabeth of Hungary (1850).

When Millais‘ painting Christ in the House of his Parents was accused of blasphemy, Collinson resigned from the Brotherhood in the belief that it was bringing the Christian religion into disrepute.

After his resignation, Collinson trained for the priesthood at a Jesuit college, but did not complete his studies.

In 1858, he married Eliza Wheeler, one of the sisters-in-law of the painter John Rogers Herbert, an early influence on the Pre-Raphaelites.

Returning to his artistic career he painted a number of secular genre paintings, the best-known of which are To Let and For Sale, both of which lightheartedly depict pretty women in situations that suggest moral temptation.

Later Life and Death

Collinson served as the secretary of the Society of British Artists from 1861 to 1870. In the latter part of his life he lived in Brittany, where he painted The Holy Family (1878).

James Collinson died in Camberwell, London, on 24 January 1881.

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