Frederick Cayley Robinson



Frederick Cayley Robinson (18 August 1862 – 4 January 1927) was an English artist, creating paintings and applied art including book illustrations and theatre set designs. Along with a number of other British artists, Cayley Robinson continued to paint striking Pre-Raphaelite and Victorian subjects well into the twentieth century despite this approach becoming deeply unfashionable. His work has been examined in a PhD thesis by Alice Eden and an exhibition Modern Pre-Raphaelite Visionaries at Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum.

His series of large-scale mural paintings for the Middlesex Hospital entitled Acts of Mercy commissioned around 1915 and completed in 1920 are some of his most impressive works, along with Pastoral, 1923, (Tate, London), which was bought by the Chantrey Bequest for the nation. However his many smaller paintings, particularly of interiors featuring sombre women as well as the theme of departure, are significant works of modern British art.

The artist's time studying at the Académie Julian in Paris from 1891-1894 had a critical influence on his entire artistic output which displays the influence of European Symbolism, especially the avant-garde group the Nabis and the cult revival of interest in Burne-Jones in Paris at this time. Like many of his peers, Cayley Robinson felt drawn to a new style of art, moving away from modern impressionism and appearing to emulate the visionary medievalism of the Pre-Raphaelites.

Various connections - within the circle of Ricketts and Shannon and the Glasgow School of Art for example - brought Cayley Robinson closer to the occult revival of the period, including the Golden Dawn and esotericism. This context also infused his artworks. From the late 1890s, Cayley Robinson developed his own distinctive oeuvre of artistic expression which combined simple, quiet domesticity – the everyday - with hints of the occult, the mysterious, the wondrous.

In recent decades, Cayley Robinson's work has been exhibited in Tate exhibitions, Chasing Happiness at the Fitzwilliam Museum, (2006-7), which displayed his illustrations for Maurice Maeterlinck’s The Blue Bird and the Acts of Mercy exhibition at the National Gallery, (2010). The latter displayed striking mural works, rescued and purchased by the Wellcome Trust in 2007.

Many of Cayley Robinson’s artworks are featured in the exhibition Modern Pre-Raphaelite Visionaries: British Art, 1880-1930, (Leamington Spa Art Gallery, 13th May - 18th September, 2022 and the Watts Gallery, Artist's Village, Compton, October, 2022- February, 2023). A publication entitled Modern Pre-Raphaelite Visionaries: British Art, 1880-1930 was produced to coincide with the exhibition.

The publication features essays by scholars Tim Barringer, Colin Cruise, Charlotte Gere, Jan Marsh, Elizabeth Prettejohn and Sarah Victoria Turner.

The book is edited with an introduction and catalogue by Alice Eden.[1] The exhibition displays Cayley Robinson alongside many of his peers working in similar ways, engaging with revivals as well as their modern historic moment.

[1] Alice Eden, (ed.), Modern Pre-Raphaelite Visionaries: British Art 1880-1930, (Leamington: Warwick District Council and the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art, 2022)

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