Collis, Peter (1929–2012), artist, was born in London on 16 November 1929, the son of Herbert Collis, an architect, and Phyllis Collis (née Clark). Growing up in Guildford, Surrey, and later at Esher, Surrey, he received a formal academic training in oil painting at Epsom College (1947–52). In the 1950s he exhibited work at the Royal Academy annual exhibitions and the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, but subsequently stopped painting and worked in business. After marrying an Irish woman Anne McNally in 1957, he regularly visited Ireland with her from 1960 and began painting Irish scenes.
In 1969 he moved from Surrey to Ireland, settling in Monkstown, Co. Dublin, where he converted a small bedroom in his terraced house into a studio. Working for some years in sales and public relations with Shell Oil, he painted in the early morning from sketches made while on sales trips across Ireland. He quickly rendered an embryonic image, which was then over a longer period painstakingly rubbed down and scraped back, this process of revealing different layers of pigmentation serving to confer a jewel-like lustre upon his colours. The finished paintings were then set-aside for several months before he passed final judgement on whether to release them for public exhibition. Accordingly, his works generally lacked immediacy, excepting the smaller canvasses, which were often completed in one sitting and were by their nature more personal and expressive.
Primarily a painter of Irish landscapes in the French post-impressionist style, he was influenced mainly by Paul Cézanne and to lesser extent by Maurice de Vlaminck and Ivon Hitchens. Like Cézanne, he fixated on certain landmarks, being fascinated by the rugged landscapes of Co. Wicklow and south county Dublin. He echoed Cézanne's obsession with Mont Sainte-Victoire by repeatedly depicting the Sugarloaf mountains in north Wicklow and Killiney Hill and its environs in Co. Dublin. (This was commercially astute, given the wealth associated with south county Dublin in general, and Killiney in particular.) Latterly, he featured scenes from the west of Ireland, particularly Connemara, wherein he used brighter colours because he believed the light there differed to that of the east coast.
Notable for their excellent draughtsmanship and striking hues, his landscapes are bereft of quirkiness or flamboyance and adhere closely to the observed topography while allowing for spontaneity and imagination. He focused on underlying structure over transitory detail by condensing nature into geometric blocks of contrasting colours. Despite availing of a murky palette sporadically enlivened by splashes of iridescence, he painted with great solidity and sensuousness, transforming ostensibly dreary scenery into a repository of strong tonal values. The brushwork varied, sometimes within the same canvass, from light, precise touches to sweeping ridges of impasto, the latter reflecting expressionist inclinations, which he indulged to varying degrees without overturning the sense of a methodical artist keeping within strict boundaries.
Unusually for an Irish landscape artist, he disliked flat landscapes abruptly closed off by a dominating skyline, preferring instead to place the viewer low in the horizon looking up at high ground with only a sliver of sky near the top of the canvas. Bold, brooding and bereft of ethereal whimsy, his scenes were identifiable for their consistency of approach, subject and colour, typically featuring a falling foreground flattening out into a bay or valley before rising to a distant mountain. Lone trees and a receding road or stream winding across a hill were other recurring motifs. His obsession with capturing the land's essence emptied his settings of their particularity, giving the familiar countryside an alien quality. Aside from the odd depiction of snow covered hills, there is no way of discerning the time, season or weather, while humans and animals are never shown, their absence is suggested by the presence of roads, houses, haystacks and telegraph poles. He was considered at his best working on a small scale and when going for stark rather than homely scenes.
In his still lifes, he adopted a tilted perspective while luminously rendering heavily delineated plates, bottles, jars and pieces of fruit against a muted background. The foreground objects are more colourful than anything seen in his landscapes, though as with his landscapes he paints in the manner of Cézanne and repeats the same theme. The small still lifes were speedily executed and are more uncluttered and minimalist; they have a deliberately unfinished quality. Partly as a break from landscapes, he painted more still lifes latterly without entirely convincing art critics in this medium.
A prolific painter, he exhibited regularly in group shows from the early-1970s, mainly in Ireland, but also in Britain and the USA. He represented Ireland at Expo '92 in Seville. From 1975 there was a steady succession of dual or solo shows in Dublin at the Emmet Gallery, the Image Gallery, the Lincoln Gallery, the Hendriks Gallery and the Solomon Gallery, and in provincial venues including the Carroll Gallery, Longford, and the Yeats Gallery, Sligo. In the early 1990s he began exhibiting in Britain, thereafter having shows at the Trinity Gallery and John Martin Gallery in London, and the Fosse Gallery in Cheltenham.
Often dismissed as outdated, formulaic, derivative and too commercially driven, especially early in his career, he was never fashionable and bore little relation to the contemporary style of Irish landscapes, particularly the far more lyrical approach that rose to prominence from the late 1960s. Over time, however, art critics became more inclined to acknowledge his technical virtuosity and subtle individualism. Without achieving spectacular prices, his works sold steadily, enabling him to become a full-time artist. In the late 1980s he had an impressive studio extension put on his house. He benefited amid a prolonged Irish art boom from the mid-1990s during which dealers touted him as a safe investment for new collectors. The auction record for his work was the ㈐,000 paid for 'Still life with black bottles' in 2007.
His paintings were bought by prominent collectors, most notably Bono, and became part of private collections of Irish art worldwide. They also hang in various public collections, including those of the OPW, Bank of Ireland, AIB, Aer Rianta, UCD and in the National Self Portrait Collection in the University of Limerick. Amongst other awards, he was a three-time award winner at the Claremorris open exhibition (1982, 1990 and 1992) and a two-time winner of landscape prizes at the Oireachtas exhibition (1981 and 1983). He won the James Adam Salesroom Award at the 1999 RHA exhibition.
A regular at the RHA's annual exhibition from 1971, he was elected an associate member of the RHA in 1990 and a full member in 1993, serving subsequently as its treasurer (1994–8) and on its annual exhibition selection committee (1992–2002). In 2002 he was made a senior RHA member. Noted for his courtesy and love of Savile Row suits, he was a popular, but low profile, member of Ireland's artistic establishment. His final solo exhibition was at the Peppercanister Gallery in 2010. Following an illness, he died on 18 April 2012 in St Vincent's Hospital, Co. Dublin. He was buried in Deans Grange Cemetery, Co. Dublin, after a funeral service in the Church of Ireland, Monkstown. Shortly before his death there had been a retrospective exhibition of his work in the John Martin Gallery, London.