Wilkie Collins’ father, William Collins, was a landscape painter and, in 1836, he left England with his young family in search of inspiration in Europe. During the two years he spent in France and Italy, Wilkie learnt to speak both languages and said that he learned more useful things there than he ever did at school. Years later he returned with the writer Charles Dickens and another friend to re-visit the cities and landscapes he remembered as a child.
It was not only writers and painters who visited Europe; travelling for curiosity started to become fashionable among the upper-classes at the beginning of the 1700s. It soon became a tradition to take part in a trip known as the Grand Tour which was considered necessary to complete an English gentleman’s education. Young men, often accompanied by an elder family member, used to travel from England to France and continue through Europe as far as Italy. During the trip they would study the art, language and culture of the country. The Tour was not considered a holiday but an investment, a preparation for future life in high society. Later it also became fashionable for young women to take the trip too.