He was born at Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, about 1835, and was the son of a bookseller. He entered the Royal Academy School, and was also a fellow-student with Holman Hunt, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Collinson was a devout Christian who was attracted to the devotional and high church aspects of Pre-Raphaelitism. A convert to Catholicism, Collinson reverted to high Anglicanism in order to marry Christina Rossetti, but his conscience forced his return to Catholicism and the break-up of the engagement. When Millais' painting Christ in the House of his Parents was accused of blasphemy, Collinson resigned from the Brotherhood in the belief that it was bringing the Christian religion into disrepute.
During his period as a Pre-Raphaelite, Collinson contributed a long devotional poem to The Germ and produced a number of religious works, most importantly The Renunciation of St. Elizabeth of Hungary (1850). After his resignation Collinson trained for the priesthood at a Jesuit college, but did not complete his studies.
In 1858, he married Eliza Wheeler, the sister in law of the painter John Rogers Herbert, one of the early influences on the Pre-Raphaelites. Returning to his artistic career he painted a number of secular genre paintings, the best-known of which are To Let and For Sale, both of which lightheartedly depict pretty women in situations that suggest moral temptation.
- List of Pre-Raphaelite paintings - including the work of James Collinson.
- Jorge L. Contreras, "James Collinson, the Campo Santo and the Birth of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood", Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies, Vol. 15, p.5, 2006
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Cust, Lionel Henry (1887). "Collinson, James". In Stephen, Leslie. Dictionary of National Biography 11. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 381–382.
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- James Collinson at DMOZ
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