William Gershom Collingwood, (6 August 1854 - 1 October 1932), was an author, artist, antiquary and was also Professor of Fine Arts at the Reading University. 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. He used the names of some of Collingwood's grandchildren for his characters, the Swallows.
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.
Collingwood was a member of the Viking Club and served as its president. 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 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.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (2004).
- W. G. Collingwood, The Lake Counties, J.M. Dent, 1930; rpt. F. Warne & Co., 1932. [rpt. paperback ISBN 1-85797-343-7]
- W. G. Collingwood, The Life of John Ruskin, (1911).
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