"Roland Collins and I share a nostalgia for favourite places and going back forty or fifty years, Dieppe is with Fitzrovia undoubtably top of our nostalgia pops"
ROLAND COLLINS 1918-2015
Artist,Painter,Designer,Photographer,Printmaker and Writer
Born in London in 1918, painter and artist Roland Collins was educated at Kilburn Grammar school. Encouraged by his art master Robert Whitmore, and with the help of the London County Council, he was able to attend the St Martins School of Art, in the Charing Cross Road.
Roland Collins' style and interests are in keeping with the work of his contemporaries Eric Ravilious, John Piper and Edward Bawden. Collins enjoyed exploring some of his favourite rural and urban landscapes as his subject matter, from Dieppe France London Cornwall and Kent.
At the age of 18, he exhibited at the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition.
Michael Parkin has represented Roland Collins for over 20 years
with his first solo Exhibition
London and Dieppe - A Retrospective 1937- 1993.
Followed by annual exhibitions and many mixed exhibitions, including
Roland Collins at Eighty in 1998.
Roland was one of Michael's favourite painters and believed very strongly in his work.They shared many interests and obsessions in common with Dieppe & Fitzrovia top of the list.
Please contact me for Roland Collins Gouache Paintings for Sale :firstname.lastname@example.org
"Favourite Places become obsessive subject matter"
Favourite Places become obsessive subject matter and for over 50 years he has recorded just that. He belongs very much to the style and tradition of his contemporaries Eric Ravilious John Piper and Edward Bawden. The exhibition is by nature nostalgic, but it is also part of the continuity of a series of exhibitions I have put on over nearly twenty-five years devoted to the Cafe Royal, Fitzrovia, the Colony Room, the Gargoyle, Marcel Boulestin and Jacques Emile Blanche. It is people that make places and so it is memories of Dylan Thomas Nina Hamnett, Augustus John, Gaston Berloment, Charlie Allchild and Walter Sickert that take Roland Collins and myself back to the Fitzroy, the French, Mornington Crescent, Dieppe and the Café Suisse.
Roland Collins was born in Kensal Rise, moving to Maida Vale.At 8 he won a Evening News competition to colour in a Poater. Roland Collins was educated at Kilburn Grammar School, whence with the encouragement of the art master Robert Whitmore and the munificence of a grant from the London County Council of £25 a year, he was able to go to the St Martins School of Art, in the Charing Cross Road. This was in a building, since demolished, approached behind a disused burial ground.
"As a new boy I had my rubber thrown out of the window by sculptor Leon Underwood in his life class ,and suffered Vivian Pitchforth's strictures on my lack of form. "Pitchy" who became a royal academician -wrote to me later about my painting" "you've got Whitstable just right. You've snapped me up in the general atmosphere." After a year the school was transferred to the former Archbishop Tennyson's school on the site of Hogarth's house in Leicester Square. here we deserted classes to hold protest meetings in the basement against Hitler, Mussolini, Franco and the Baldwin inspired abdication of Edward VIII."
Ever since those pre-second -World-War days, Roland Collins became an acute observer of the London and later the Dieppe scene. The Old London as we used to know it has disappeared, and it is with more than nostalgia one is taken back thirty, forty or fifty years. Roland Collins has managed to record the landscape of the time in a way the camera never has. it is not just a case of buildings destroyed by the war and the property developer, but the disappearance of items-all clues to what was a more leisured way of life-like the hand-pushed cardboard box delivery cart-massive but presumably light in weight. the old carriages and stable in Knightsbridge Mews; the Watney's Lion and Shot Tower that became the South Bank Site for the Festival of Britain. We had hope then, and hadn't reckoned with or thought of the prospect of the ugliness of buildings such as the Hayward Gallery on the same site today.
For Roland, favourite places became obsessive subject matter. A black and white drawing Thames at Chiswick ,was accepted by the Royal Academy in 1937,and Market Place, Waltham Abbey the following year was chosen by Wyndham Lewis in his Royal Academy selection. In 1939 the R.A. showed Mill on the Cam, Cambridge. St Johns College and Montpelier street, and in 1940 he took his first job in the studio of a then leading advertising agency, the London Press Exchange, and worked for many well-known advertisers.
Then came the war. Conscientious Objection and a doubtful lung took him into light agricultural work and briefly to Dartington Hall in Devon and its orchards. The Art Department had closed, but there was a memorable concert in the Great Hall given by two young men before they left for America-Peter Pears, accompanied at the piano by Benjamin Britten.
"Back in London, painting places brought its hazards .in Cumberland Terrace, Regents Park, I was taken by a policeman to be questioned at the barracks. My subject was occupied, it seemed, by military police. Months later the painting, which was on paper came back from the War Office pleated in concertina folds. Rudely introduced to Fitzrovia through the bombs of 1940 I took the studio at 29 Percy Street that remained for over forty years a base and a refuge .that year I painted murals for the Akropolis, one of the first Greek restaurants in London and opened in Percy Street by Christos Ktori ,a chef with stais at the White Tower. Unfortunately a bomb in Tottenham Court road did fatal damage to the Parthenon! When the business was transferred to Charlotte Street, the excuse was repeated till this too disappeared in the change to Anemos. Later Christos's son Andrea opened the Grecian Tavern in a Percy street basement and I painted murals on a theme of Greek vase decoration-and of course, the Parthenon! The fragments of broken plates with which customers showed appreciation of the cabaret performers were sprayed gold. Along with a Nike of Samothrace in a papier mâché everything disappeared with the arrival of the present Japanese restaurant. Alas gone too, yet another Parthenon re-created for a restaurant near Victoria."
Roland designed, the sleeve for the very first long playing record issued by Decca -Igor Stravinsky's Petroushka
With a partner bought a gaff rigged yacht Lilian built in Hull in 1902 from a toffee manufacturer in Middlesbrough. On a course set for Burnham on Couch he was towed into Whitby, taken into Grimsby by the lifeboat after grounding on Spurn Head, towed across the Wash to Harwich by the tug Annuity, and nearly sunk on his moorings at Burnham, at last a year later. "An epic voyage."
He sought refreshment at the Central School Life Class with Morris Kestelman. Life Classes in the studio at "29" attracted interested attention from staff at Rowney's expense.
He became a persistent exhibitor at most of London's Art Societies.
City of London Art Exhibition
Paddington Art Exhibition
Wrote "the Flying Poodle" book for children with photographs by W. Suschitzcky. Harvill Press. Wolfgang Suschitzcky became a famous feature and documentary film cameraman.
Edited and illustrated a magazine The Young Ballet Dancer for youngsters learning ballet, in association with the Legat School
Royal Society of British Artist
"From 1948-1967 I rode regularly in Hyde Park at first from the Old Berkshire Stables behind Edgware Road where the Water Gardens are now, later from the famous Lilo Blum's near Hyde Park corner that vanished along with St George's Hospital change into being a brand new hotel.
1954 Illustrated with colour lithographs Colour and Pattern in the Home by Noel Carrington (brother of Dora) Batsford. Noel had an office in then same house as Percy Street.
"In Coronation year I met Iziz Bidermanas the Lithuanian born French Photographer, here to make Gala Day London and Queens People for the Harvill Press, now part of Collins. In introducing him to less familiar London I too began photographing favourite subjects in black and white. With accompanying articles these appeared in the Lady-a Climber's Guide to the Monument: Hyde Park; Suschitzcky A Chinese Tea Party; the Van Gogh Country -by 27 bus; Dieppe-Channel Surprise Packet.
Wartime drinking in Fitzrovia's public houses brought an inevitable meeting with Dylan Thomas in the Wheatsheaf , formally introduced through friends in the BBC Welsh service.
"Dylan was sober and sweetly reasonable .it was lunchtime. Evenings here in its tartan glory and under the influence of Youngers Scotch Ale were inevitably dominated by the loud voice and affected manner of Julian Maclaren-Ross, the short story writer. his silver topped walking stick hooked on a bar, he passed drinks down to Mrs Stewart, an elderly local , who sat at a table with her crossword puzzle and an alarm clock.
Air raid notwithstanding she never went home till the bell on the clock rang. Just as inevitably Nina Hamnett came in looking for someone to buy her a drink, though admittedly she was always good value for money!
Caught on my spy camera,the tiny Minox. Augustus John and Dorelia arm in arm after visiting their daughter Poppet and Dutchman William Poll, her third husband at their flat in Percy Street. Virginia Woolf's Bloomsbury lingered on in the Fifties in Fitzrovia, and in particular in Percy Street. Saxon Sydney-Turner, contemporary and Cambridge friend of Lyttton Strachey and Maynard Keynes , came in from the attic flat next door to finish his times crossword. Barbara Bagenal Barbara Hiles at the Slade, danced solicitously behind with shopping bags, while Clive Bell retreated briskly across the great divide of Tottenham Court roads. When Saxon left in '55 Duncan Grant sand Vanessa Bell, now a fragile but stately pair took over his flat. When they too went six years later, the emptiness of those rooms was poignantly emphasised by the only evidence of their occupation -a broken oval dish with characteristic decoration by Vanessa and a plate by Duncan. I have them still.
Sonia Brownell, blonde beautiful and fresh from a convent came to 29 in 1941 with Augustus John and Cyril Connelly in hot pursuit ,slightly ahead of a clutch of painters who gave the Euston Road a place in art history -William Coldstream ,Rodrigo Moynihan and Claude Rogers. Sonia later moved to a flat on the south side of Percy Street and progressed via Cyril Connelly 's Horizon to shared fame as one of David Plante's "difficult women" and a deathbed marriage to George Orwell. Somewhere in my bookshelves is the Matisse given to me by the girl from the fiction department.
1941 framed in his studio door Ben Nicholson and the poet Kathleen Raine, whose meagre room on the second floor was sanctified by one if Ben's white reliefs. satisfied smiles from the pair-they had just been to see the Marx Brothers the big store, and sat through it twice.
Perhaps least known of Bloomsbury 's literary names , Julia Strachey, Lytton's niece, took a flat in Percy Street so that she and her husband Lawrence Gowing, had somewhere to stay when they came to town. After the collapse of their marriage in 1966 Julia pursued a, solitary existence communicating mostly through her typewriter " I must get this off to to the New Yorker" thirty two years had passed since her masterpiece cheerful weather for the Wedding, her health was failing and in a letter to Robert Kee she described herself as an ancient old bag .I gave her a drawing of Brighton Pavilion which, she wrote in a letter to me " Ben Nicholson ( not the painter, but the son of Harold Nicholson and Vita Sackville West) when asked what he thought about it answered
-why-of course-its brilliant"
1955 & 1957
City of London Art exhibition
Royal Society of Marine Artists
Royal Institute of Oil Painters
Holborn Artists Oil Painting Bankside bought for London Borough of Camden.
Bought Ocean Cottage Whitstable where he spent a happy 21 years.
Fitzroy Tavern, Charlotte Street.First One Man Show under the benevolent patronage of the landlord, Danny Fitzgerald .in those days a regular customer entered to the sound of his own signature tune played by Bernard , the resident pianist. a local lady ticket collector on the Underground arrived with her escort, I remember,to "Messing about on the River".
Royal Society of Marine Artists
Royal Watercolour Society
Britain in Watercolours
Towner Gallery Eastbourne
Hampstead Open Air Art Exhibition
"Made a touching discovery in the loft at '29 -the banners, posters and placards of forgotten campaign on behalf of the nine Scottsboro negroes sentenced to death in Alabama for alleged assault on two white girls. The campaign was here by Nancy Cunard in 1933 from her flat on the top floor. Nancy daughter of society hostess Emerald Lady Cunard fought tyranny everywhere and was that year grieving the loss of a friend since childhood .George Moore about whom she an affectionate memoir.
In 1970 Fitzrovia was threatened by mass development which would have meant the wholesale destruction of much of its "people live here" character. A meeting of concerned residents in the house of abstract painter Adrian Heath, later R.A. in Charlotte Street resulted in the formation of the Charlotte Street Association, committed to the preservation and enhancement of Fitzrovia's unique qualities. Its first secretary I remained active in the organization till leaving for Padstow three years ago.
1987 By 73 Bus to Camden Registry Office, treading reverently in the footsteps of Virginia Stephen and Leonard Woolf ,for marriage to Louise McConduch Ross.(Connie)
1988 Illustrators Gallery, Colville Place. One man show under title Favourite Places.
1993. Started to exhibit with Michael Parkin Fine Art The British Art Show. Exhibition shared with 14 Artists in the gallery of the recently refurbished Whiteley's in Queensway.
1994 Roland Collins London and Dieppe
included in many mixed Exhibitions and Art fairs annually: 20/21 British Art Fair, Works on Paper Fair.
Self - Portrait , Whitstable by Roland Collins
Closely guarded secret
The Spectator - Wednesday, 2nd December 2009
Andrew Lambirth on how the cult of youth can lead to the neglect of distinguished older artists.
One of the least endearing traits of our age is youth worship. I can understand that advertisers might need to target a large and gullible audience suddenly and unaccountably blessed with disposable income (or should that be credit?), but to attribute wisdom or originality to youth is a rash act indeed. The attention paid to young artists in recent decades has grown increasingly disproportionate, for no good reason apart from the follow-my-leader media circus which keeps their antics before an increasingly bored and bewildered (if not downright cynical) public. Meanwhile, the invariably more substantial achievements of mature artists are ignored because they are not considered ‘newsworthy’. Thus is the serious and rewarding disparaged, and the immature and meretricious lauded to the telegraph poles, if not quite the rooftops.
This is doubly disturbing because it is rare for a young artist to have much to say, or the ability to say it interestingly. Experience counts for far more, both in terms of content and the acquired skills with which to communicate it, as anyone with direct knowledge of the art world will readily admit. There are scores of mid-career artists out there, working away with very little encouragement or reward, some of whom were once the Bright Young Things of their generation. Fashion takes up and then it discards, and the blight of post-war British art has been the obsessive hunt for the next youthful star, while the richness and diversity of our artistic achievement across all age groups goes largely unrecognised.
However, beside the fascination for youth lies an ingrained public enjoyment of the Grand Old Man. A reverence for age is altogether more understandable: speaking personally, the friendship of older artists has taught me an immeasurable amount about both art and life, and I am deeply grateful for it. John Craxton, who has just died at the age of 87, was a supreme example of an artist full of knowledge and experience, capable of imparting his enthusiasms in the most wonderfully vivid and life-enhancing conversation. I greatly mourn his loss. Craxton’s art is well known and justly celebrated, but amazingly there are artists of his generation still at work whose careers remain a closely guarded secret to all but the specialist. One such is Roland Collins.
Roland Collins was born in 1918 in Kensal Rise, before moving with his parents to a block of mansion flats in Maida Vale at the age of 11. His great love there was the canal, and he made many drawings of it, aware from very early on that he wanted to be an artist. (At the tender age of eight he won a competition organised by the Evening News to colour in a poster.) At Kilburn Grammar School, where he helped to paint the scenery for the annual Shakespeare play, he was encouraged by the art master, Robert Whitmore, and consequently went to study for two years at St Martin’s School of Art. Aged 18, education was at an end and he must find work, which he duly did, his first job being studio assistant for an advertising agency called the London Press Exchange. He prepared layouts and designs for advertising, and worked freelance as a lettering artist. (Collins was responsible for the letter-heading for London University’s first notepaper.)
Meanwhile, he had begun what was to be the main work of his life: a long series of gouache paintings, mainly of buildings, which link directly to the Romantic topographic tradition so strong in English art. Collins particularly admired the work of three of his older contemporaries, all of them born in 1903 — Edward Bawden, John Piper and Eric Ravilious. They set a high standard to follow, but Collins has been no mere imitator of their stylistic idiosyncrasies. He is his own man, his work given to a mixture of bold delineations and fine detailing, atmospheric washes of colour alternating with crisp pattern-making. He has a particular feeling for all horse-drawn conveyances (for 20 years he rode in Hyde Park), and especially carts, for fishing boats and sea defences, canals, the Thames and for Dieppe.
Although he is a passionate Londoner, for many years a denizen of Fitzrovia, who endured a five-year Cornish exile before settling in south London, his second home (spiritually) is in France. ‘You could say I first went to Dieppe in the early 1950s in search of Sickert’, admits Collins. He and his wife Connie return there regularly, though these days he finds the town rather too smartened up, with far fewer potential subjects for him to paint. He has nevertheless published a book of his photographs, Dieppe — le visage d’une ville de province (1995), one of the earliest of which is of a farrier, taken in the 1950s.
Utterly professional, Roland Collins prides himself on turning his hand to many techniques. He has worked successfully as a designer and illustrator (he designed the sleeve for the first British LP record in 1945), a printmaker (he made a superb suite of lithographs to illustrate Noel Carrington’s book Colour and Pattern in the Home in 1954), a muralist (Greek restaurants a speciality), a photographer and a writer (he wrote the text for a children’s book, The Flying Poodle, in 1951, and illustrated another poodle book, the novel Fifi and Antoine by Charlotte Haldane in 1956), but above all he has been a painter.
He has produced a distinguished body of work which documents a fast-vanishing world. As he says, ‘So many of the things I was interested in and attracted by no longer existed after the war.’ He explains how he is drawn to the past: ‘I think it reflects my search for rural origins. My grandfather on my father’s side came from Cottenham, north of Cambridge, and was described as a farmer. They produced a very well-known blue cheese and lived in Cheese House on the green.’ If his work has a nostalgic air, it is partly because his style was firmly established in a realistic idiom through the 1930s, 40s and 50s. He has never been tempted by abstraction, preferring always to stay in close touch with what he sees. His habit is to go out walking, with his canvas painting bag over his shoulder. ‘Finding a subject that suits me — that’s the tricky bit.’ If he succeeds, he will settle down to paint it en plein air. A pause for lunch in a nearby pub and then back to work. He’ll be happy if he completes a painting in two sessions, but sometimes he’ll wander all day in search of a motif and not find one. But the enjoyment he derives from looking at buildings never pales.
In 1937 he showed a painting for the first time in the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition, and has continued to exhibit regularly since, though an innate modesty has kept him from the limelight. As a consequence, his delightful and unaffected paintings are less well known than they might be, and a talent which has been continuously in use for more than 70 years has gone largely uncelebrated. It is high time for a Roland Collins retrospective: an exhibition that could demonstrate the breadth and depth of his interests, and introduce to an unsuspecting public a very distinct, articulate and highly enjoyable artistic voice.
The Spectator, 22 Old Queen Street, London, SW1H 9HP. All Articles and Content Copyright ©2010 by The Spectator (1828) Ltd. All Rights Reserved
ROLAND COLLINS at EIGHTY
Roland Collins and I share a nostalgia for favourite places and going back forty or even fifty years,London-and especially Fitzrovia-and Dieppe are undoubtedly top of our nostalgic 'Pops'.Fitzrovia,that imaginary kingdom of very real artistic and sometimes bibulous characters,is a place largely destroyed by the time and the false gods of Mammon.Gone forever are the old restaurants:the Etoile,the old Bertorelli and even Gilbert France's Chez Victor. Also perhaps nearly gone are the White Tower and Gay Hussar.We shall see...
But it is people that make places and so it is the memory which still exists for some,including Roland Collins and myself,of Augustus John and Nina Hamnett in the Cafe Royal ,of Gaston Bertelmont in the French (the York Minster); of Francis Bacon and Muriel in the Colony Room,and of Dylan Thomas in the Tatty Bogle.And the same is true of Dieppe,which Roland has been recording in words and pictures for over fifty years.To sit in the Cafe des Tribuneaux brings the ghosts of Jacques-Emile Blanche, Walter Sickert and all those who crossed the channel to paint Dieppe subjects.William Nicholson and Mathew Smith,Christopher Wood and Ben Nicholson all came here.Gwen John collapsed and died in Dieppe at the outbreak of war in 1939 and Roger Hilton was captured during the ill-fated Dieppe Raid of 1942
Roland's relationship with the town began in 1950 when he stayed at Renee Moury's hotel and restaurant Les Arcades,his balconied room overlooking the quays,the same room from which C.R.W.Nevinson had made an etching,now framed on Roland's wall.Since then Dieppe has been a renewed feast,offered to him each time he has stepped off the boat,providing subjects to paint that Sickert made familiar which surprisingly remain little changed.One does not have to close one's eyes to see Delacroix's view from the Chateau, or Pissarro's of the fish market and the Place Nationale, or the enjoyment of bathers on the beach by Sickert and Blanche.
"Favourite places become obsessive subject matter"says Roland Collins.He has been acutely observing and faithfully recording such places since before the war, and they are all fondly remembered and celebrated here, not just London and Dieppe,but Paris,Sussex,Kent and Cornwall too.But this is also another, greater celebration,for which hearty congratulations are undoubtably in order for I can hardly believe that Roland Collins, forever young at heart, is eighty.
ROLAND COLLINS at EIGHTY
Once Degas said to Sickert "I would have keepers on my estate with orders to fire on any landscape painter they saw-at first with buckshot-as a hint".He was talking to one who abhorred painting 'from nature.
Ignoring the hint and Sickert's castigation, painting out-of-doors has given me sixty years of pleasure.Subjects come and go.Old Father Thames keeps rolling,even if Alan Herbert's 'No boats on the River' really has come to mean no boats.
Mysteriously, Belgravia clings to its mews, even if the horses have been mucked out for the last time,and the Star's customers no longer wear leggings.In the East End the Towers of Hawksmoor's churches still dominate a landscape stood on its head by post war development.canaries no long sing in front parlours.
Dieppe still wears its history on its sleeve and an open invitation to record the amazing survival of its wonderful Arcades,the deep shadow of streets Sickert knew so well,and the beached whales of hulks stranded on the shore.
Paris'n'as pas change'. The bridges to the two islands,the Cite and St Louis,like drawbridges cut off those secret worlds, obligingly frame views of the Seine and trees leaning over the cobbled quays. Irresistable!
I miss the carts,and before them the horses,the London when Covent Garden meant fruit and veg, the carved and painted coster trolleys,the surprise at finding a sage coach in a mews behind Queen's Gate. I miss the stables that lingered behind the hospital that became a hotel at Hyde Park Corner.
Sorry, I seem to have drifted back to Belgravia, which I first discovered as a subject when I missed a train at Victoria on my way to paint an Eastbourne Beach. Happy day.
Roland Collins at Eighty
Collins is the last of the Bawden, Ravilious,Piper generation of topographical artists.There is a hint of Piper, but it is with Ravilious and Bawden that he forms a triumvirate.He specialises in London and Dieppe,painting out-of-doors with a bold eye for architecture.This charming show moves to University of Hull Art Collection.
Sunday Telegraph 27th September 1998
At Michael Parkin a much more senior artist enjoys a deserved retrospective.Roland Collins belongs to the honourable tradition of English painter/illustrators who worked largely on paper. A large exhibition of gouaches and some exquisite pencil drawings celebrate the topography of London, Dieppe and ther less well noted locations including the scenes of some of my own earliest memories: Marine Parade Whitstable, where my grandfather, parents and uncles had holiday cottages at different times.
Spectator April 1994