Thence by descent
London, Lefevre Gallery, Cecil Collins, February 1944, cat no.1, titled The Secret, Price 16 Guineas
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Cecil Collins, A Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings and Tapestries from 1928-1959, November - December 1959, cat no.34, titled The Secret
London, Barbican Art Gallery, A Paradise Lost: The Neo Romantic Imagination in Britain, 1935-55, 21 May - 19 July 1987, cat no.52, titled The Poet
Brian Keeble, The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings, Golgonooza Press, Ipswich, 2002, illus colour pl 3, p195
The secret was painted in 1943, early on in what was arguably the artist’s most creative decade. This was the decade of his seminal “Holy Fools” series. “The Secret” is similar in colouring, texture and composition to one of his most well-known works, “The Sleeping Fool” of the same year.
During the 30s many of the artist’s pictures showed the struggle he had with not only establishing a series of authentic symbols with which to express his visionary sensibility, but also with the problem of how to arrange them in a composition that has a convincing, organic unity. “The Secret” displays Collins’s increasing confidence in this respect. We have here a cogent scene that does not pose any problems so far as presenting a recognisable scene is concerned. The artist has not arrived at “realism”, nonetheless the elements of the composition obey the laws of common perception. Here also are many of the pictorial archetypes Collins would explore over a life time - the bird, the tree, the chair, the figure seated at a table; even the flowing drape emerging from the chair. This last or something like it, re-emerged in later works, most prominently, perhaps in one of his greatest works, “The Angel of the Flowing Light” of 1968.
That said, the overall emotional tone of the work is one of enigma - no doubt aided and abetted by the title. What are we to make of this titular provocation? Here we must proceed wanly. Throughout his life the artist took pains to discourage any temptation by the spectator to impose a “code” upon his images: “the wall stands for…”, “the tree stands for…” and so on. Collins always insisted his works muse the “visual music of the kingdom of the imagination”, and as such must be approached, or “read” rather, at a more subtle, emotional level of response. The pictorial elements of the composition must be meditated upon in a way that enables the viewer to respond intuitively to the nuances of colour, the energy of forms and the rhythmic impulses of repeated shapes, with the aim of sensitising and opening up the restrictions of habitual mental formulations. Thus the viewer might penetrate to the roots of consciousness itself, at a level beyond those things consciousness is ordinarily directed towards.
“The Secret” is a very fine example of this singular visionary painter’s increasing mastery of the powers of evocation through the traditional pictorial exemplar of the figure in a landscape - given here Collins’s unique stamp.
Brian Keeble, March 2009