1680 – 1744
A Still Life of a Lobster and a Shrimp
Charles Collins was an Irish painter of birds, game, fowl and other animals. Born in Dublin, Collins was one of the first talented still life artists in Britain, taking inspiration from Dutch painters like Jan Weenix and Frans Snyders. Few contemporary accounts of him survive and it has been suggested that he trained in the Netherlands. In one of his invaluable notebooks George Vertue provides a brief account of Collins, describing him as a painter of “…all sorts of fowl and game. He drew a piece of a hare and birds and his own portrait in a hat.” Upon his death in 1744 Collins was described as “Bird Painter to the Royal Society” which gives an indication of the level of skill he possessed and the reputation he had earned.
A series of watercolour paintings of birds and mammals in Britain, dated between 1736 and 1744, show Collins’ skill at painting feathers with soft, rich colours and delicate highlights. Partnering for the project with Peter Paillou, Collins used gouache or body colour for the bird and painted in the slight background and foreground with clear watercolours. The commission came from the eminent naturalist Taylor White (1701 – 1772). Collins signed about two hundred studies and also dated a few other among the 659 in White's collection. These watercolours are now preserved in the library of the McGill University, Montreal, Canada.
In the Tate Gallery, London, there is another Collins still life of a lobster which was purchased from Rafael Valls Ltd in the 1980s. In the Tate's picture the lobster is presented on a Delft dish and is dated 1738. According to the Tate, two other lobster still lifes by Collins are known besides the present picture. In one the lobster is presented on a pewter dish on a table with a loaf of bread and flagons of wine. The other was sold at Christie's London, 23 January 1953, it is entitled 'Lobster, Fruit and Parrot on a Table' and is said to be dated 1736. From this we can assume that the present picture is from around the second half of the 1730s. Compositionally it is closest to the Tate version. The focus on a single object in a still life is relatively uncommon in the Dutch tradition and hints at Collins’ career as an artist who catered to naturalists.
The Hellier Collection, The Wodehouse, Wombourne, Staffordshire