John Collier was born in London, the second son of Sir Robert Collier (Lord Monkswell), and because of this aristocratic background was able to meet many important painters and others. His artistic training was at the Slade under Poynter, then in Paris and Munich. He also benefited from knowing Millais and Alma Tadema. Collier became a popular portrait painter of the upper classes, and also painted dramatic scenes where the viewer had to guess what was going on. As well, he painted classical genre to a high standard.
Collier's first wife, Marian, was a daughter of Professor Huxley, and herself a painter. Unfortunately she died young.
Among his more theatrical pictures are Mariage de Convenance at the art gallery in Merthyr Tydfil, Sentence of Death at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, and Vendetta at the Williamson Art Gallery, Birkenhead. His most ambitious mythological picture is In the Venusburg (Tannhauser) (1901) in the Atkinson Art Gallery, Sefton. A Lady Godiva is at the Herbert Art Gallery, Coventry, The Death of Cleopatra is in Oldham, A Sinner is at Bath and a Priestess of Delphi is in the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide. Among Collier's many portraits, we may mention Prof. Huxley and Kipling, which are both in the National Portrait Gallery, Ray Lankester in Exeter College, Oxford, Bradlaugh at Northampton and Lady Darling at Southampton.