John Collier, Untitled portrait, c.1770
The production and sale of satirical prints outside London is a subject which we’ve touched on before here at the Print Shop Window, and it is one which was brought to mind again recently when I came across this gorgeous oil painting by the Northern caricaturist John Collier in a saleroom in South Yorkshire.
Collier, who often worked under the pseudonym Tim Bobbin, was one of only a handful of provincial artists that were able to successfully carve out a career in the London-dominated world of eighteenth-century caricature. His surviving letters suggest an almost militant adherence to his Lancashire roots and an unwillingness to countenance the notion that residence in the Great Wen was a prerequisite for creative or commercial success. When one publisher tried to coax him into ‘getting on his bike’ and relocating to the metropolis, Collier replied bluntly that: “I do not like London, or anything that is in it; for it’s a place where neither me, or mine shall ever come, if I can hinder it”. It is an attitude which provides a refreshing counterpoint to the snobbery displayed in so many metropolitan satires of this period. While Londoners may have enjoyed the jokes made at the provincial’s expense in an array of prints by Gillray, Cruikshank and Rowlandson, Collier sneered right back at metropolitan smugness, ensuring that southerners were made to pay a handsome premium for his works. Writing to one of retailers in Manchester in 1776, he explained that he charged one rate to his customers in the North and a second, much higher one to, “our friends in London”.
The painting is untitled and the subject was not identified in the auctioneer’s catalogue. However, similarities between this image and an earlier self-portrait of Collier whose authenticity has been verified by both Bonhams and the Rochdale Museum, strongly suggests that it is a picture of Collier himself in middle-age. The soft cap he wears (possibly itself a satirical allusion to Hogarth’s famous Painter and his Pug) is also identical to one that he sports in an engraved self-portrait produced near the end of his life. The significance of this work (and it’s estimated hammer-price) may therefore have been radically understated.