The Forgotten British Collector: Captain Collingwood Ingram (1880-1981)

by Rosemary Bandini

Captain Collingwood Ingram 1905An important British collector, whose name is not instantly recognisable to today’s collectors, was Captain Collingwood Ingram. Born in London, he was the grandson of Herbert Ingram, founder of the Illustrated London News. He was a sickly child and as a consequence was privately educated at home. His parents were great bird enthusiasts and as a result he too developed a passion for all feathered creatures. A visitor to his parent’s home, while Collingwood was still a boy, describes birds flying in and out of the house. The family had three tame albino magpies, one of whom was so beloved of Lady Ingram that she took it on the family holidays to Northumberland, where it would accompany her as she took her daily walks.

As a young adult he worked in the ornithology department of the Natural History Museum where, it is reported, he was able to study and catalogue the bird skins which his father, Sir William Ingram, had engaged a William Stalker to collect in Australia and send to the museum in London. When he was just 21 he was proposed as a member of the British Ornithologists’ Union by W.R. Ogilvie Grant of the British Museum’s Bird Room and in the same year joined the British Ornithologists’ Club, where he remained a member until his death eighty years later. He was also elected as an Honorary Member of the Ornithological Society of Japan. During the Great War he served as a Compass Officer in the Royal Flying Corp, taking every opportunity while at the Front to study the birdlife of Northern France and keeping meticulous records in his sketchbook. When his colleagues came from their flying missions, after checking to see who had made a safe return, he would then quiz them for information about how birds flying patterns had been disturbed by their activity. It is fair to say that his interest and enthusiasm was exceptional, if not obsessional.

Cherry BlossomIt was a bird-watching expedition which first took him to Japan in 1902, but whilst there he also became enraptured with the flowering cherries. After the war he settled with his family at The Grange in Benenden, Kent where his interest in horticulture dominated his life. He planted his garden with all manner of tropical plant brought back from his travels. He despised artificial garden design and set out to create what he termed “a succession of sylvan glades” connected by curving paths that seemed to have no finishing point.[1] Flowering cherries became his specialist subject and his knowledge was much admired in Japan. In 1926 he was invited to Japan to give an address to the Sakurakai (Cherry Society). Whilst there, he was shown a picture of a particular variety with a large white flower that had become extinct. He was later able to recognise the same blossom on a stumpy plant in Sussex, which had been brought over from France in 1899. By taking cuttings, he was able to propagate the stock and re-establish it as tai haku. He reintroduced it to Japan in 1932. As a result of his knowledge and enthusiasm in this area he earned the soubriquet ‘Cherry Ingram’.

Widely travelled, he clearly felt an affinity with Japan, developing a interest in Japanese miniature arts. He formed a collection of tsuba, inrō and netsuke. Trained as a Museum man, Ingram was in close contact with the Department of Oriental Antiquities at the British Museum and in 1970, at the age of 90 he willed his collection to them. When he reached the age of 100 he began to fear for the security of the objects, which were stored in his attic and began to give the pieces to the museum. The remainder was bequeathed on his death on the understanding that at least a part of the collection would be permanently on view. In spite of ill health in his childhood and being accidentally shot in the eye during a grouse shoot in 1905,[4] Collingwood Ingram survived to the age of 100.

Fugu fish netsuke Unsigned horse

Captain Collingwood IngramAn entertaining appreciation of him written for The British Library Magazine (1981) by Lawrence Smith paints a picture man full of determination and vigour who refused to be confined by rules and regulations. Smith recalls his first visit, where Captain Ingram, aged 93, met him at the train station in his motor car. With limited vision as a result of the shooting accident, he barked at his passenger to keep an eye out for oncoming traffic as he guided the car resolutely along the white markings in the centre of the road in second gear, considering higher gears unnecessary. Lunch was taken at a long refectory table, his hosts at either end. Mrs Ingram bellowed at her husband “Do you think the gentlemen would like more pudding?” eliciting the barked reply “Why don’t you ask them?” That he is less well known to today’s collectors may be a reflection of the fact that his collection was not dispersed at auction and that he was far better known for his bird studies and his horticultural achievements. Nonetheless his keen eye is evident in the high quality of his bequest to the British Museum where many of his inro are decorated with the bird imagery of his first great love.

This article was adapted from Rosemary Bandini’s chapter Collecting Netsuke in the UK in Cortazzi, Sir Hugh ed., Britain and Japan: Biographical Portraits, Japan Society, London, 2016.
Published in the International Netsuke Society Journal, Volume 36, Number 2

[1]. Kent Garden Trust, April 2009
[2]. Unsigned wood grazing horse, image courtesy of British Museum
[3]. Fugu fish signed Ryusai, image courtesy of British Museum
[4]. Yorkshire Evening Post, Friday 29th September 1905, p. 3

Call Now Button