Frederick Cayley Robinson: Acts of Mercy at the National Gallery

Frederick Cayley Robinson’s masterpiece, ‘Acts of Mercy’ (1916–20), comprises four large-scale allegorical works, which memorably explore the positive forces of the human spirit in the face of destruction.

Cayley Robinson (1862–1927) is one of the most distinctive and yet elusive British painters of the early 20th century. Essentially a British Symbolist, Robinson created a striking variety of mood and atmosphere in his paintings to evoke complex emotional responses.

About the paintings

The four panels on display were executed as a commission for the new Middlesex Hospital. Two of the works represent the traumatic effects of conflict on patients sent back from the First World War. A doctor is thanked by a kneeling mother, echoing traditional images of the Adoration or Crucifixion.

The other pair of panels shows the refectory of an orphanage. In one picture girls sit at a table reminiscent of Leonardo’s ‘Last Supper’ – their stillness and steady gazes recall Dutch 17th-century painting.

The paintings were purchased by the Wellcome Trust in 2007 – they are usually on public display in the Wellcome Library in Euston.

‘Frederick Cayley Robinson: Acts of Mercy’ is a National Gallery Sunley Room exhibition created in collaboration with Tate Britain.

Exhibition open through 17 October 2010.

Image: Frederick Cayley Robinson, ‘Acts of Mercy: Orphans II’, about 1915 © Photo Wellcome Library

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