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A Painter of a New Day


IT might not unreasonably be supposed that imaginative art
would have been crushed under the prevailing heresy of
realism. The enormous advance made in the province of imi-
tative skill might well bring about a deadening of the inventive
faculties. The attention once given to the general laws of pictorial
and decorative effect has of late come to be concentrated almost
exclusively upon conditions of light and atmosphere, the result
being seen in numerous pictures of calculated accuracy, wherein
may be determined the distance from the spectator of any given
chair or table, or the morrow’s weather may be foretold from the
wind stirring the group of trees in the foreground depicted with
such elaborate science. Consequently it has followed that, during
the past few decades, the energy of all but the rare and more subtle
minds among those concerned with the painter’s art has been
claimed by the allurements of the popular discovery. It was by a
sort of paradox that the general community of painters, at the very
time when the rising claims of photography would seem to be
steadily taking from the value of their efforts, should have taken
so keen a delight in exact record as to have well-nigh forgotten
the practice of the older masters, by whom imitative skill was re-
garded as a means, not an end.

    As though in contradistinction to a movement which saw
the two extremes—on the one hand, the strenuous study of facts
combined with an embroidery-like elaboration of workmanship in
the English pre-Raphaelites and in the early writings of Ruskin;
on the other, the searching analysis of light in its many phases as
proclaimed in the paintings of Manet and of Claude Monet and his
followers—there arose a little group of romanticists who have
created, at least so it would appear, a common tradition for a future
school of romantic painting. This wave of idealism attained its
fullest force in England in the works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti,
Sir Edward Besloues Ford Madox Brown, Simeon Soloman,
George Wilson and others, and in a less restricted sense in those
of Watts. In France the departure was less pronounced, it being
mainly restricted to the achievements of Gustave Moreau, Théo-
dore Eiasseriau and Puvis de Chavannes: an echo of it may also

be perceived in Germany in Boecklin and Klinger; in Italy, an ex-
ample in Segantini, at least as regards one side of his genius.

    Although the inventive, as apart from the realistic, element
of painting can never wholly fade from the art of any particular
generation, it may be taken for granted that the traditions of ima-
gination were rarely at a lower ebb than at the time immediately
preceding the movement which grew out of—or to express it more
concisely, accompanied from the very first, as though unaware—
the so-called pre-Raphaelite movement. The search after the
“grand style,” which was but a disguise of the imaginative impulse,
and the inheritance of a general dignity of tone and vision which
had animated painters such as Reynolds and Gainsborough, and in
a lower degree Fuseli and Stothard, had died away for want of
vigorous minds to sustain it, or perhaps on account of the influence,
even then beginning to be felt, of the new and all-embracing in-
quiry into naturalistic conditions.

    Whether the recent rise of the romanticists is the rising of
a group independent in itself, or whether the hour has struck for
the waning of coldly scientific portrayal, it is as yet too early to
determine; but there are not wanting signs that the naturalistic in-
novation has not only, as is but natural with the lapse of time, lost
its freshness, but that it can proceed no further. The general rest-
lessness and the dissatisfaction with existing means evinced among
the younger painters, passing as it has done from a healthily awake
to a morbidly active condition, may not unreasonably be looked on
as a manifestation of decay and fading belief. It must at least be
admitted that, were one to deny the existence of such reaction
from a widely upheld formula, it would be difficult to imagine from
what direction might come the next impulse in art, that might be of
true vitality and importance, unless from the direction of a traditional
or personal symbolism.

    The means of idealistic expression appear to have been ad-
vanced to a point beyond which it were not possible to go without
covering new and all but unexplored ground. The romantic out-
look, as though unconscious of its power, has been approaching
more and more nearly to an assured and direct spirituality. The
strange half-immortal offspring of mortal life and the world of the
imagination has attained the knowledge of its winged power, its
capacity for untrammelled flight. It were vain to attempt any de-

                              A Painter of a New Day

termination as to the result of this newly reawakened confidence
in vision, but that there is a province stored with unheard-of trea-
sure, awaiting the coming of a powerful and original mind, is a
situation existing beyond any great cause for doubt. That William
Blake, scarcely less than a century ago, should have championed
a cause exactly similar, is but additional proof of its validity to-
day. Blake’s message, owing partly to a natural obscurity of
utterance, partly clouded through his impatience of technique, was
rendered so difficult that for years it remained a dead gospel,
thrust aside and forgotten. But whether or not the more profound
works of Blake may ever be generally read, if only for their lyrical
passages, it will be found on the establishment of a spiritual art
of real significance, whensoever that may come about, that a philo-
sophic basis for it will not be far to seek.


ROSSETTI, in what was perhaps the most brilliant period of his
career, used to advise young men of talent not to put into words
the poetry that was in them, but to paint. He maintained that
poetry had reached its culmination in Keats, and must hence-
forward inevitably decline, but that there was nearly everything
to be done in painting. Although subsequent events show that he
did not maintain this view—just as we do not maintain it to-day—
it is certain, by such advice, that he anticipated the coming change.
And, indeed, what is this change but a reverting to ancient prac-
tice, with the addition, be it noted, of modern discoveries?

    Sufficient time has not elapsed since the ending of the life-
work of the acknowledged leaders of the romantic school to en-
able it to be seen who among the newer painters may be most
fitted to fill the places left vacant, that is, supposing they ever may
be filled. Many young painters in various directions are turning
their attention to romantic painting, and with considerable success;
but as yet only one or two names begin to stand out prominently
from among the general number. That of F. Cayley Robinson, to
the few who have followed with delight the infrequent appearance
in the public exhibitions of certain lovingly wrought and most indi-
vidual works, is a name marked as one distinctive and apart. It is

only necessary to glance carelessly at a work of Mr Cayley Robin-
son’s in a crowded gallery, to be at once and completely removed in
spirit from the prevailing triviality of motive that characterizes the
average exhibition picture. The work thus beheld, whether for
good or ill, is remembered as that of a man who has a definite
message. A dignity, even austerity, of treatment, an aloofness of
mind, a nobility of aim, a charm of tender humanity at once pro-
found and simple, a sane understanding of the decorative require-
ments of a picture combined with a close study of the appearances
of nature, render these works among the most satisfying of those
produced by contemporary English artists.


MR CAYLEY ROBINSON has two distinctive moods, which I would
name, inadequate though such terms must be, the romantic and
the meditative; and in his most recent productions—small, deli-
cately-handled paintings in tempera—he would seem to have
attempted a combination of the two, the result, when most suc-
cessful, being one of mingled reverie and enthusiasm. In art, as
in life, one of the most difficult of problems is to retain the charm
and fire of youthful enthusiasm side by side with the serenity and
repose coming from a more matured skill. But it is in such rare
balance of technique with inspiration that the strength of Mr
Cayley Robinson’s talent mainly lies. This first or more directly
romantic mood comprises several of the artist’s earlier pictures;
it is concerned with chivalry and enchantment, and goes wander-
ing among remote, wonderful, never-trodden countries. The
second mood draws beauty and delight out of the humbler, often
passed-over, aspects of the world, and it is in these homely inte-
riors, so filled with sweet reverie, that the peculiar individuality
of the artist has, I think, as yet most fully expressed itself.

    Like many another artist of strong originality, Mr Cayley
Robinson, though widely and frankly eclectic, seldom fails to be
entirely himself, despite his long brooding over the masters of his
admiration. His sympathy with the painters so_ superficially
classed under the designation of Primitive—with Giotto in par-
ticular, and with Mantegna and Botticelli—is at once evident, as

                              A Painter of a New Day

is also the debt he owes to moderns, such as Sir Edward Burne-
ones and Puvis de Chavannes, and in more indirect fashion to
lake. At times, perhaps, the surrender is too obvious, as in
“The Beautiful Castle,” strongly reminiscent of Burne-Jones and
“King Cophetua,” or in the later and smaller version in tempera
of “To Pastures New,” bearing the title “Dawn,” in which the
method of generalization peculiar to Puvis de Chavannes has been
closely followed. Another picture, though in a perfectly legitimate
manner, recalls a well-known figure by Michael Angelo. But in
an age of general disregard of tradition, few will blame an artist,
above all an artist so genuinely creative as is Mr Cayley Robin-
son, for displaying his regard for the great ones who have gone
before him.

    Mr Cayley Robinson, in devoting himself to the cause of
romantic symbolism, but of late upheld so nobly by Sir Edward
Burne-Jones, has displayed a rare wisdom in the attitude he has
adopted. Had he made the attempt to continue in the mode of
vision practised by the master, he would have been doomed to the
position of a mere follower. The exquisite art of Burne-Jones is
an art full of pattern and line; it has little to do with the interpre-
tation of light: in the domain of colour its most successful achieve-
ments are brought about by the use of subtly gradated monochrome,
or by a mosaic-like juxtaposition of varied tints, rather than by the
fusion resulting from the interplay of light and darkness. Here it
is where Mr Cayley Robinson has seen his path. Gifted with the
modern feeling for light, he has by that means brought new life
into a tradition which, having recently attained a splendid mani-
festation, could not but become moribund in other hands. As a
colourist, the later artist is keenly alive to effects of tone, the in-
fluence of the enveloping atmosphere upon coloured surfaces.
Without breaking away from the example of the masters of inven-
tive design, he has extended the field he has entered; with what
degree of success can be determined by the future alone.

    Subject in art is the most elusive of qualities. The present
disdain of literary suggestion in painting is based upon sound
reasoning. We know to-day that the “Christ and Mary Magdalen,”
by Titian, has but the slightest connection with its scriptural sub-
ject—the revelation of Christ to Mary Magdalen in the garden—
although the canvas is thrilled with the message of a divine revela-

tion from corner to corner. We are justly wearied of pictures,
wherein some sprawling female figure holds up a tablet labelled,
say, “The Spirit of Metaphysics,” and yet we instinctively per-
ceive a stretch of water under a twilight sky by Whistler, or a
child lying on the sand by Matthew Maris to be full of subject.
The most generally accepted of the motives of Mr Cayley
Robinson’s paintings may be put into few words; it is merely a
group of people, usually children or young girls, resting or occu-
pied over ordinary household duties, in a simply-furnished firelit
room. But face to face with the canvas itself we are possessed by
a quite extraordinary sensation of mystery. It is evident that the
flicker of red light upon white walls, the shadow and silence, have
filled the artist with unspeakable thoughts; the impression thus
made has followed him into daily life, has entered into his dreams,
has been turned over in his mind, until the result is a picture. So,
too, each object in the room—the half-curtained window, the round
hanging clock, the mahogany chest of drawers, the children’s toys,
the detail of the dresses of the girls—has been loved for its own
sake, and has come from a strange and beautiful dream-world
having its origin half in the less obvious dearly remembered scenes
of the past, half in the depths of a little-understood, but no less
real, inner life. At times this element of strangeness, as of another
world, is brought home to the beholder by some accent of de-
liberate fantasy. Such are the green-eyed cat and the grotesque
iron-work monsters which produce a little shiver in “The Found-
ling,” placed as they are in the quiet surroundings of a dripping
umbrella, a well-aired bed, china mugs, and old-fashioned books,
or the swallows flying outside the window in “The Depths of
Winter,” or even the falling snow in “A Winter’s Evening,” or the
pattern embroidered upon sleeve or hanging, These interiors
have not been painfully thought out and pieced together for the
purposes of picture-making, they are the result of vision and
memory. Such painting as Mr Caley Robinson’s is intimate in
the fullest meaning of the word.

                              A Painter of a New Day


IN dealing with an artist of power the bare facts of his training in
craftsmanship go for little, and the experiences of his outer life,
though they may be possessed of greater meaning, are often de-
ceptive. It is probable that Mr Cayley Robinson was in no wise
influenced by the course of study he went through at the St John’s
Wood and afterwards at the Academy Schools. At Paris, where
he worked for a time, he may have learned the foundations of his
technique, for he handles oil paint with rare skill and charm. It is
of significance, though, in any estimation of his art that Mr Cayley
Robinson spent the greater part of three years in a small sailing-
boat, though that period of his life would seem to have been more
productive of thought than of results. But it is profoundly signi-
ficant that an artist, so strongly attracted to the past, should have
lived in Florence for several years and have seen no modern
pictures during his sojourn there.

    An early painting by Mr Cayley Robinson, entitled “The
Ferry,” shows the dawning of his personality, but it barely more
than foreshadows the excellence of his later work. Other pictures,
painted shortly afterwards, are “Suzanne,” and the charming “In
a Wood so Green,” the first notable example of his more romantic
tendencies, his most important achievement in this direction being
the elaborate composition, “Spring.” It was in the year 1894 that
he painted the beautiful “Mother and Child,” which first revealed
his mastery over those lamp-lit or fire-lit interiors, which have
since become the most frequently employed of his sources of in-
spiration. Mr Cayley Robinson’s pictures have been seen from
time to time, though usually appearing strangely out of harmony
with their surroundings, on the walls of the Reve Society of Bri-
tish Artists, at one of the Guildhall summer exhibitions, at Liver-
pool, and even amid the glitter of the Royal Academy.

    In his recent exhibition at Mr Baillie’s gallery this most
sincere of painters gave evidence of a fresh development of his
style, leading in the direction of a greater simplicity, a grander
conception of art, a more assured flight of the imagination, But
whether the art of Mr Cayley Robinson turn in new directions or
continue its recognized course, it cannot fail to be sealed as some-
thing entirely beyond the usual average of exhibition pictures.
Should he produce nothing more, his works already in existence are
not likely to be forgotten, for the painter has put into them some-
thing of the light of a new day.

                                                              CECIL FRENCH

MLA citation:

French, Cecil. “A Painter of a New Day .” The Venture: an Annual of Art and Literature, vol. 2, 1905, pp. 85-91. Venture Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2019-2022. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Toronto Metropolitan University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2022,