Art & Artists in Exhibition: Vancouver 1890 - 1950
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Charles John Collings

1848 - August 7 1931

Royal Academy, London England
International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Engravers

Charles John Collings was one of British Columbia's earliest, most successful, and highly sought after artists - yet his paintings were sold almost exclusively in England, and he remained almost unknown in British Columbia itself for most of his life.

He was born in Chudleigh, England, and was largely a self-taught artist. He first exhibited with the Royal Academy in 1893. He moved to Canada with his family in 1910 and began living at the north end of Shuswap Lake on Seymour Arm. The family started by living in a tent, and eventually built a log cabin, on land purchased from the Seymour Arm Fruit Lands Company. Although their fruit trees were killed in the winter of 1916, the Collings family stayed on.

A London art dealer, who was particularly struck by examples of Collings paintings that he had seen, actually travelled to Collings home "thirty-five miles from the railway and civilization", (that "civilization" being Kamloops, B.C.) to acquire paintings to sell in London. This led to a solo exhibition in London of Collings work in June 1912. He also earned the sobriquet "Recluse of the Rockies", from the isolated location of his home.

In 1921 Collings exhibited with the Island Arts and Crafts Society in Victoria, B.C.

He developed a unique method of water colour painting that remains as distinctive and appealing as it was in his time. In 1912, an appreciative article on Collings work by British artist Val Davis, a member of the Royal British Academy of Arts, was published in the October 15th issue of The Studio. Davis lauds the colours of Colling's paintings, and also comments on his own amazement that such a new technique should have been developed after hundreds of years of watercolour painting.

The "new technique" was actually quite simple, although it didn't seem to be known to the public. According to one source, Collings would paint a watercolour, and then sandwich it between two panes of glass while the painting was still wet. He would leave the painting between the layers of glass for a period of time, then remove the painting and dry it. The result of this process was a magical merging and defocussing of colours and shapes. Presumably he had a variety of techniques for doing the actual painting, and no doubt found a balance between the amount of wetness and the length of time the painting spent sandwiched in the glass. Additionally, the type of paper he used, the sizing of the paper, any treatment he did to the paper prior to painting, and the types of watercolour paint used, would also have affected the outcome. He also soaked his watercolour paper for as long as two days before starting to paint. It is probable that he spent a lot of time experimenting before he "got it right". But once he got it right, the results were sublime. The colours are distinct yet somehow continuous, luminous and impressionistic while retaining the sense of the original detail.

In 1924 and 1930 Collings exhibited work at the Vancouver Exhibition. In 1928 he served as a Juror for the First Annual International Salon of Water Colors, held under the auspices of the Provincial Exhibition of British Columbia at the Bursill Gallery in New Westminster, B.C. He was listed in the exhibition catalogue as "John C. Collins (sic), Artist, Shuswap Lake, B.C.". Additionally, he displayed a "Group of Water Colors", courtesy of Mr. And Mrs. J. Fyfe Smith of Vancouver. The other jurors for that exhibition were Charles H. Scott, Bessie Adelaide Fry, and John Vanderpant.

Collings was one of only three local artists to display work in The Founders Collection, the first exhibition held at the Vancouver Art Gallery when it opened in October 1931. It is possible that his two watercolours were purchased in England and "reclaimed" to British Columbia. He had a solo exhibition at the gallery in 1940.

Collings died at home on Seymour Arm, Shuswap Lake, in 1931.

Exhibitions

SOLO EXHIBITIONS
DATE EXHIBITION LOCATION
1940 June 25 - July 14 Watercolours VAG

GROUP EXHIBITIONS
DATE EXHIBITION ARTWORK
1924 Aug. 9 - 16 Vancouver Exhibition   Annual Exhibition Seascape
Salmon Arm
1928 Sept. 3 - 8 Provincial Exhibition
1st Annual International Salon of Water Colors
Group of Water Colors
1929 October BCAL   Citizens' Loan of W/C The Deserted Camp
Homes of the Cariboo
Dartmouth Castle, Devon
Home of the Bear
In the Cotton Belt
The Last of His Tribe
Early Morning on the Teigh
The Deserted Homestead
1930 Aug. 6 - 16 VanExh   Oil Paintings & Water-colours Home of the Cariboo - Cotton Belt, B.C.
1931 October 5 - ? Vancouver Art Gallery
The Founder's Collection
Shuswap Lake, B.C.
Mountain Study, near Lytton, B.C.


References - BIBLIOGRAPHY

Refer to BIBLIO.

References - GROUP EXHIBITIONS

SOUVENIR CATALOGUE OF EXHIBITIONS OPENING
THE NEW VANCOUVER ART GALLERY
(refer to VAG51)

CONTEMPORARIES OF EMILY CARR IN BRITISH COLUMBIA (refer to SFU74)

AN EXHIBITION OF OUR COLLECTION OF
EARLY WESTERN CANADIAN WATERCOLORS
(refer to UL78)

KATHARINE EMMA MALTWOOD - ARTIST (refer to UVIC81)

OUR CHANGING LANDSCAPE (2008) (refer to BAG08)

HOPE AT DAWN: WATERCOLOURS BY EMILY CARR
AND CHARLES JOHN COLLINGS
(refer to VAG12)

References - GENERAL

THE ART OF CHARLES JOHN COLLINGS: An Appreciation by Val Davis
      The Studio, Vol. 57 No. 235, October 15 1912, London England.
      Little factual information; one colour plate

EARLY PAINTERS AND ENGRAVERS IN CANADA (refer to H70)
      Includes short reference to Collings.

ISLAND ARTS AND CRAFTS SOCIETY - List of Exhibitors

THE DICTIONARY OF BRITISH ARTISTS 1880 - 1940 (refer to DBA76)

CHARLES JOHN COLLINGS: THE RECLUSE OF THE ROCKIES by Maria Tippett
      The Canadian Alpine Journal, Volume 60, 1977, pages 30 - 32
      Biography and two works illustrated; reprinted from The Beaver, Autumn 1975

ROYAL CANADIAN ACADEMY OF ARTS -
EXHIBITIONS & MEMBERS 1880 - 1979
(refer to RCA81)

ARTISTS IN CANADA 1982 - UNION LIST OF ARTISTS' FILES (refer to AIC82)

A DICTIONARY OF CANADIAN ARTISTS (refer to M)

BIOGRAPHICAL INDEX OF ARTISTS IN CANADA (refer to BIAC03)
      14 references listed for Collings.

TAMING THE FRONTIER: ART & WOMEN IN THE CANADIAN WEST 1880 - 1920
      July 2005; by Virgina G. Berry, copyright Margaret Berry and Julie Berry Melynk.
      188 pages softcover; illustrated, footnotes, bibliography, index
      Centered on Winnipeg, but has early references to Collings.

ART INSPIRED BY THE CANADIAN ROCKIES, PURCELL
MOUNTAINS AND SELKIRK MOUNTAINS 1809-2012
(refer to TOWN12)

VANCOUVER PUBLIC LIBRARY - B.C. ARTISTS FILES (refer to VPL)

Clippings

"C.J. Collings, a resident of the Shuswap Lake region, British Columbia, since 1910, has added distinction to the art of Western Canada. Mr. Collings' paintings have a charm of originality in handling, a quality of poetry and mystery, that placed him as one of the important water-colour painters of England before he came to Canada. His work has since maintained the same high standards."
      From Canadian Landscape Painters, Albert H. Robson; page 190
      The Ryerson Press, Toronto, 1932

"Collings' Works Shown at Gallery" by (unknown)
     Vancouver Sun, June 28, 1940

"Fine Water Colour Show at Gallery" by (unknown)
     News-Herald, June 27, 1940

"Work of Noted Water Colorist at Gallery" by M.A.E.
     Daily Province, June 24, 1940


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