Study of a Tiger for 'Circe'
signed and dated 'John Collier/1885.' (lower left)
oil on canvas
28 x 36 in. (71.1 x 91.4 cm.)
Sir Julian Goldsmid, 3rd Baronet (1838-1896), London.
His estate sale; Christie's, London, 13 June 1896, lot 35, as Tiger Crouching.
Cooper, acquired at the above sale.
Cyril Flower, 1st Baron Battersea (1843-1907) and Constance Flower, Baroness Battersea (1843-1931), Overstrand, Norfolk, by 1898.
with The Perfect Touch, Chicago.
Private collection, acquired directly from the above, May 1974.
By descent to the present owner.
Canningtown, Public Hall, 4th Annual West Hampshire Free Picture Exhibition, 2 April-17 April 1898; and Stratford, Townhall, 18 April-2 May 1898.
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Animals in Art, 1907, no. 153, as Tiger.
Brought to you by

Lot Essay

The present work is a study for Collier’s large-scale Circe, also of 1885 (fig. 1), which the artist displayed at the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893. Circe, a witch and minor goddess in Greek mythology, is best known for her role in Homer’s Odyssey. Through her magic, the beautiful Circe is able to transform her enemies and those who offend her into animals; she lives alone on the island of Aeaea, where she is surrounded by surprisingly docile wild animals who are in fact the people she has transformed. When the unfortunate Odysseus arrives at Circe’s island she lures his men to dinner and subsequently transforms them into pigs. Through the intercession of Athena and Hermes, Odysseus is able to protect himself from Circe’s magic and have his men returned to human form. He remains on Aeaea for over a year, and Circe bears the hero several sons.
In Collier’s representation of the goddess, she is depicted from behind reclining in the nude. Her arm is slung over the back of the tiger depicted in this study, which gazes fiercely into the middle distance beyond the picture plane. At the goddess’s feet is an ocelot with whom she shares a playful glance. In the background a lion stands guard and two boars are visible at right, perhaps alluding directly to the Odyssey. In the present work, Collier depicts just the tiger, his expression softer and more naturalistic than in the final composition, and leaves the ground and background plain, focusing on the physiognomy of the animal and textures of his fur as well as the complex foreshortening of his position. At left, a change in the positioning of the animal’s back paw is visible, illustrating Collier’s underdrawing technique and confirming that the work is in fact a preoperatory sketch (fig. 2).
Collier is known to have made studies directly from wild animals when depicting them in his paintings and given the naturalism of the tiger in the present work, it is likely he also did so in this case. In an amusing anecdote recounted to The Sketch Magazine in an interview in 1903, Collier recalled working on Lilith (1889, fig. 3) which features a large boa constrictor as the biblical serpent. Collier was able to borrow the snake to make studies from from a Mr. Cross, at the time the largest exotic animal importer in the world, who was an acquaintance of the artist’s uncle, a judge in Liverpool. Collier rented a studio in Liverpool to work in and the snake was sent over, along with a man to care for it, who posed for the artist with the snake wrapped around his body, resulting in the wonderfully natural coiling in the final composition. One day while the snake handler was out at lunch, a friend came to visit Collier and they built a fire in the studio to keep warm. The snake had been largely docile because of the temperature in the studio, but became livelier once the fire was lit and slithered out the partially open door. Collier and his friend grabbed the snake’s tail, but it was so strong that they could not pull it back into the room and it got away. Thankfully, the rest of the building was quite cold, and when the snake handler returned from his lunch the snake was found coiled up in the hallway and returned to the studio. Collier remarked that he took more care with the animals he made studies from from that point onward.

Related Articles

Sorry, we are unable to display this content. Please check your connection.

More from
European Art
Place your bid Condition report

A Christie's specialist may contact you to discuss this lot or to notify you if the condition changes prior to the sale.

I confirm that I have read this Important Notice regarding Condition Reports and agree to its terms. View Condition Report