The following biography was written by his great-granddaughter Joan Collier Philip, and submitted in July of 2006 by Ilene Skeen, Curator, Salmagundi Club, New York City:
Cowles Myles Collier was born in 1836 in Hampton, Virginia. His father’s riverfront estate provided the first views of water and fishing boats that played such a huge part in his artistic vision.
The Collier family had settled in Virginia before the 18th century and Cowles Myles’ grandfather was linked by marriage to Chief Justice Marshall. His privileged background gave him the leisure time to develop a painting style that was already well established before he was out of his teens. A canvas painted around 1856 was sold in 1993 for $8,000.
Cowles Myles attended West Point prior to the onset of the Civil War and began a naval career. He left the U.S. Navy to serve in the Ordinance Department of the Confederacy and had achieved the rank of colonel by 1865.
A secretarial position with a large corporation in Memphis, TN, was the beginning of a successful career that lasted about twenty years. During his time in Memphis he exhibited marine canvases in St. Louis, Detroit, and Chicago. The encouragement he received during this period caused him to retire from the business world and move to New York City, where he maintained a studio until his death. His pictures sold well, and artists were often among the purchasers. He was an exhibitor at the National Academy and a member of the National Water-Color Club, the Black and White Club, the Art Clubs of Boston and Philadelphia, and the Salmagundi Club.
Called “the American Mesdag” by the art critic Wendell Stanton Howard, Cowles Myles himself disclaimed such influence. He greatly admired the work of Van de Velde the Younger, whose work he carefully studied in Europe.
The latter years of his life were spent in New York, New England, and frequent trips to Europe. In the Salmagundi Club he found the artistic camaraderie that had been absent in his youth. He was known for his genial and kindly nature. W. Granville Smith, an intimate friend, said, “I loved the man for his personality. He was enthusiastic about art, yet always modest and retiring about his own work. Yet how charming his work was. He did not depict the sea in its robust mood, but on the poetic side; that is the way he strove to interpret it. He was a thorough student of every subject he painted, and he had an exquisite sense of color.”
Cowles Myles Collier died at Gloucester in 1908, while working on a canvas depicting, not surprisingly, the sea.
A note: His first initial is sometimes interpreted to be short for Charles, while his real first name was Cowles. In the records of the Salmagundi Club the artist's name is recorded as C. Myles Collier.