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Acts of mercy. Oil paintings by Frederick Cayley Robinson, 1915-1920.

Robinson, Frederic Cayley, 1862-1927.
  • Pictures

About this work


The four canvases form two pairs. One of the pairs shows orphans and the other shows medical patients, reflecting the social and clinical roles of hospitals respectively. In the former pair, orphan girls are receiving sustenance and upbringing. In the latter, patients, including some men injured in World War I, gather at the entrance to a hospital. The paintings were commissioned by Edmund (later Sir Edmund) Davis ca. 1912 and were presented to the Middlesex Hospital, in London: there they were displayed in the entrance hall until ca. 2005. The Middlesex Hospital was demolished in 2008. The motto of the Middlesex Hospital Medical School was "Miseris succurrere disco" ("I learn to help the wretched", a quotation from Virgil)



Physical description

4 paintings : oil on canvas

Publications note

David Brown et al., Frederick Cayley Robinson A.R.A., exhib. cat., Fine Art Society 1977
Mary Anne Stevens, 'Frederick Cayley Robinson', Connoisseur 1977 (September), vol. 196, pp 23-35 ("In 1915 he had completed Orphans, the first panel of his most important commission, the decoration of the new entrance hall of the Middlesex Hospital, London. ... The decorative scheme consisted of four panels collectively entitled "Acts of Mercy". Two called "The doctor" hung on the walls at right angles to the entrance door, and the two called Orphans hung side-by-side on the wall opposite the entrance door. The first finished panel, painted as the other three panels were to be, in fairly dry oil on absorbent canvas, received high praise both from the critics who reviewd it when it was exhibited at the New English Art Club prior to installation and from the hospital's Weekly Board who inspected it on 14 April 1915. The remaining panels were completed in 1916 and 1920. When the new building of the Middlesex Hospital was erected in 1929, Robinson's murals were transferred to identical positions in the present entrance hall")
John Christian et al., The last romantics: the romantic tradition in British art, Burne-Jones to Stanley Spencer, London: Lund Humphries in association with Barbican Art Gallery, 1989, p. 153
Alan Powers, 'Public places and private faces – narrative and romanticism in English mural painting 1900-1935', in John Christian et al., The last romantics, op. cit. above, pp. 63-69
J.H. Baron, 'Frederick Cayley Robinson's 'Acts of mercy' murals at the Middlesex Hospital, London', BMJ (Clinical research ed.), vol. 309, no. 6970 (Dec. 24-31, 1994), pp. 1723-1724
Clare A.P. Willsdon, Mural painting in Britain 1840-1940: image and meaning, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 290-292
Simon Reynolds, 'Robinson, Frederick Arthur Cayley (1862-1927)', Oxford dictionary of national biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 ("In 1910 or 1911, the South African millionaire Sir Edmund Davis had commissioned four panels for the Middlesex Hospital in London on the themes of 'Orphans' and 'The Doctor'. The first Orphan was completed in 1915 and this brilliant ensemble far outshines his 1923 commission of a war memorial for Heanor grammar school (which later became the South East Derbyshire College). Both compositions are still in situ.")
A.S.C. [Anna Somers Cocks], 'Reprieve for Acts of mercy', The art newspaper, January 2008
William Schupbach, Acts of mercy: the Middlesex Hospital paintings by Frederick Cayley Robinson (1862-1927), London 2009
Peyton Skipwith, 'Exhibition: Frederick Cayley Robinson at the Wellcome Library. Acts of mercy sold but safe', Country life, 9 September 2009, p. 116


Wellcome Library no. 672507i


"The doctor": left painting of two. Wounded and sick men gathered outside a hospital. Signed and dated lower left "Cayley Robinson, 1920"
"The doctor": right painting of two. Left, men, women and girls standing in a group outside a hospital; right, a kneeling woman and a child offer thanks to the staff. Signed and dated lower right "Cayley - Robinson - 1916"
"Orphans": left painting of two. Orphan girls entering the refectory of a hospital. Signed and dated lower left "Cayley - Robinson, 1915"
"Orphans": right painting of two. Orphan girls in the refectory of a hospital, proceeding around the end of a table towards their seats. Not signed or dated

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