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THE PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN 
Albert Henry Collings (d.1947)

Details
Albert Henry Collings (d.1947)

Life's Ambitions

indistinctly dated 1920(?) and inscribed '(1) Life's .../Albert .../42a C..' on an old label on the reverse; oil on canvas
78¾ x 56 5/8in. (200 x 143.8cm.)
Exhibited
London, Maas Gallery, Victorian Fairy Paintings, 6-31 March 1978, no.1 (as 'The Influences on Man's Ambitions', dated 1920)

Lot Essay

The title is conjectural, although 'Life's' is certainly the first word, according to the old label on the back. The picture seems to show a young man working in his study and dreaming of all the things he hopes to achieve in life - wealth, fame, sexual satisfaction, children. But the haloed woman and the figure of Death in the upper right corner hint at a more complex allegory which has yet to be fully explained. Possibly some idea of the conflict of Virtue and Vice is implied, as in the well-known theme of the Choice of Hercules. If so, then Life's Dilemma or Life's Decisions might be a better title.

Collings was born, trained, and lived all his life in London. Working in oils, watercolour and pastel, he specialised in figure subjects and portraits, for which he received a number of official commissions. He exhibited for many years at the Royal Society of British Artists, showing a total of 98 works and being elected a member in 1897. He also supported the Royal Academy (29 works, 1896-1938) and the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, and showed at the Paris Salon, where he was awarded a gold medal for a portrait in 1907. Examples of his portraiture are at Harrow and in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and Portsmouth Town Hall; but for such a fluent and relatively prolific artist, his work is now rare. There is nothing comparable to the present picture in his meagre Witt Library file, and on this showing at least it may be described as his masterpiece.

Such a major work would surely have been exhibited, but the venue, if any, has not been established. The number '42a' on the label on the back may point to a date between 1909 and 1919, when Collings was living at 42a Chepstow Villas, in Notting Hill, West London. This would accord with the style and spirit of the picture; note the telephone on the table.

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