W. G. Collingwood - Life

Life

His father, also William, was a watercolour artist, and had married Marie Eliabeth Imhoff of Arbon, Switzerland in 1851. Soon young William was sketching with his father in the Lakes, North Wales, and Switzerland.

In 1872, he went to University College, Oxford, where he met John Ruskin. During the summer of 1873 Collingwood visited Ruskin at Brantwood, Coniston. Two years later Collingwood was working at Brantwood with Ruskin and his associates. Ruskin admired his draughtsmanship, and so Collingwood studied at the Slade School of Art between 1876 and 1878. He exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1880.

For many years Collingwood dedicated himself to helping Ruskin, staying at Brantwood as Ruskin's assistant and travelling with him to Switzerland. In 1883 he married Edith Mary Isaac (1857–1928) and settled near to Ruskin in the Lake District. Collingwood edited a number of Ruskin's texts and published a biography of Ruskin in 1893.

In 1896, Arthur Ransome met the Collingwoods and their children, Dora (later Mrs Ernest Altounyan), Barbara (later Mrs Oscar Gnosspelius), Ursula, and Robin (the later historian and philosopher). Ransome learned to sail in Collingwood's boat, Swallow, and became a firm friend of the family, even proposing marriage to both Dora and Barbara (on separate occasions). After a summer of teaching Collingwood's grandchildren to sail in Swallow II in 1928, Ransome wrote the first book in his Swallows and Amazons series of books. He used the names of some of Collingwood's grandchildren for his characters, the Swallows (see Roger Altounyan).

By the 1890s Collingwood had become a skilled painter and also joined the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society. He wrote a large number of papers for its Transactions; becoming editor in 1900. Collingwood was particularly interested in Norse lore and the Norsemen, and he wrote a novel, Thorstein of the Mere which was a major influence on Arthur Ransome.

In 1897, Collingwood travelled to Iceland where he spent three months over the summer exploring the sites around the country in which the medieval Icelandic sagas are set. He produced a large number of sketches and watercolours during this time (e.g. the picture of the Althing), and published an illustrated account of his expedition in 1899 under the title A Pilgrimage to the Sagasteads of Iceland (Ulverston: W. Holmes).

Collingwood was a member of the Viking Club and served as its president. In 1902 he co-authored with Jón Stefánsson the first translation it published, The Life and Death of Kormac the Skald. His study of Norse and Anglican archaeology made him widely recognized as a leading authority. Following Ruskin's death Collingwood continued to help for a while with secretarial work at Brantwood, but in 1905 went to University College, Reading and served as professor of fine art from 1907 until 1911.

Collingwood joined the Admiralty intelligence division at the outbreak of the First World War. In 1919, he returned to Coniston and continued his writing with a history of the Lake District and perhaps his most important work, Northumbrian Crosses of the pre-Norman Age. He was a great climber and swimmer, and a tireless walker into advanced age. In 1927 he experienced the first of a series of strokes. His wife died in 1928, followed by Collingwood himself in 1932.

Probably his most lasting legacy was his influence on his son R. G. Collingwood, the famous philosopher and historian. He also founded the Ruskin Museum in 1901.

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