Poor Travellers at the Door of a Capuchin Convent Near Vico, Bay of Naples

WAG 199


William Collins (1788 - 1847) visited Naples in 1837 as part of a continental tour. As soon as he arrived, he moved to Sorrento because of a cholera outbreak in Naples. He was confined to Sorrento because of quarantine measures until July 1837, when he fell ill and moved to Ischia. The convent in this image is the Friary of Sant'Agnello di Sorrento. Collins has slightly changed some architectural details. Collins was a younger contemporary of JMW Turner (1775 - 1851) and John Constable (1776 - 1837), and to British art lovers in the second quarter of the 19th century, he was even more popular – and collectable – than they were. But his reputation has faded. Today he is probably best known as the father of Wilkie Collins, the author of the classic Victorian mystery stories 'The Moonstone' and 'The Woman in White'. (A second son, the artist Charles Allston Collins, was a friend and associate of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and married one of the daughters of Charles Dickens). William Collins was born in London in 1788. From a poor background, he studied briefly as a boy under George Morland, whose paintings of rural types such as gypsies, tinkers, and smugglers had become popular in the 1790s. The same class of people, and above all their children, sentimentalised and prettified, would become the staple of Collins’s art. He began to make his name when he showed 'Children Fishing' at the British Institution in 1810: this was an exhibiting body supported by aristocratic art patrons, and Collins would become a favourite of high-profile collectors such as the Marquis of Lansdowne, the Duke of Devonshire, Sir Robert Peel, and King George IV himself. Many of his pictures employed coastal settings, and this became a distinct strain in his work. Though successful, he remained modest and diffident about his painting.