Marion Collier (née Huxley)

1 portrait

Marion Collier (née Huxley), by John Collier, 1882-1883 -NPG 6032 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue

Marion Collier (née Huxley)

by John Collier
Oil on canvas, 1882-1883
24 3/8 in. x 19 3/8 in. (619 mm x 492 mm)
NPG 6032


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Inscriptionback to top

Signed and dated in red lower left: ‘J. Collier / 1883’.

This portraitback to top

The sitter married fellow artist John Collier in 1879 and this is the second of two recorded oil portraits by him, showing Marion as a fashionable young wife. In his Sitters Book, it is listed as ‘Marion Collier, standing’ under 1883 (as with the signature) and also as having been exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1882 (as indeed it was).[1] This inconsistency suggests that the canvas was re-worked, an inference supported by the fact that the signature and the flowers, which overlie the dress, are later additions.[2]

It seems likely that this work was painted while the artist was sitting to his wife for her large portrait of him (NPG 6811), presumably at the start of that endeavour. Intriguingly, however, while Marion’s portrait of John shows a reversed image on his easel which is similar in format to the present work, it depicts a left profile and ruffled lace collar. Was that Marion’s invention, or John’s original concept for this portrait?

In 1884, the year after her portrait of John was shown at the Grosvenor, Marion Collier exhibited a portrait of her sister Nettie (RA 1884 [592]) and a neoclassical subject picture of two undraped and semi-draped female figures entitled By the tideless, dolorous midland sea (Grosvenor G., 1884 [222]),[3] which was apparently bought by Arthur Lewis.[4] By this date, however, her psychological condition was grievous[5] and in 1887 she was examined by the celebrated neurologist J.-M. Charcot, specialist in nervous hysteria, who arranged for treatment in Paris. With her husband and two nurses she travelled to France, but died suddenly, from pneumonia, on 19 November at Suresnes, probably in the psychiatric clinic established there by Valentin Magnan.

Her obituary reads:

We regret to announce the death of the Hon. Mrs Collier, daughter of Professor Huxley and wife of the Hon. John Collier, the well-known artist. Mrs Collier, who was only 27 years of age, died at Suresnes, somewhat suddenly, of inflammation of the lungs, on Friday night last. She herself had remarkable talent as an artist. Her first picture, “The Sins of the Fathers” was favourably placed at the RA in 1879 [sic]. She was also an exhibitor in 1881, showing, in addition to a subject picture, a full-length portrait of her sister Miss Nettie Huxley. In another year her picture “By the Tideless Midland Sea” was one of the chief attractions at the Grosvenor Gallery, where Mrs Collier also exhibited some very charming child portraits.[6]

Dr Jan Marsh

Footnotesback to top

1) John Collier, Sitters Book 1879–1934, copy NPG Archive.
2) In his earlier, full-length portrait of Marion (see ‘All known portraits, By other artists, 1880’), her husband had originally placed a crimson rose on her white dress, before being persuaded by Louise Jopling to alter it to yellow on varnishing day at the Grosvenor G. See Blanche Lindsay’s Diary, 28 Apr. 1880; quoted Henrey 1937, p.226.
3) Title from A.C. Swinburne, The Triumph of Time, ll.321–4: ‘There lived a singer in France of old / By the tideless dolorous midland sea. / In a land of sand and ruin and gold / There shone one woman, and none but she.’
4) It was loaned by Lewis to the Victorian Era Exh. in 1898 and sold with his pictures from Moray Lodge, 3 Feb. 1898: ‘“By the Tideless ..etc” sold for 71 gs’: The Times, 4 Feb. 1898, p.2.
5) Described by Adrian Desmond (‘Huxley, Thomas Henry (1825–1895)’, ODNB, Oxford, 2004; online ed., Oct. 2009) as a recurrence of ‘hysteria’ which occasioned a first collapse in 1882; see also Desmond 1994–7, vol.2, pp.175–6 for Marion’s final weeks.
6) The Times, 23 Nov. 1887.

Physical descriptionback to top

Quarter-length, standing, profile to right, brown hair, grey eyes, wearing dark blue bodice with high embroidered or beaded lace collar, pink flowers on breast.

Conservationback to top

Conserved, 1990.

Provenanceback to top

With artist and descendants; purchased 1989 from Jillian (Lady) Greenwood, sitter’s granddaughter.

Exhibitionsback to top

Grosvenor Gallery, London, summer 1882 (52).

View all known portraits for John Collier

View all known portraits for Marion Collier (née Huxley)