I was reading the National Gallery website this week and see that their new exhibition focuses on a group of paintings by Frederick Cayley Robinson, an artist who features in the NRM collections.
Cayley Robinson (1862-1927) is a little known British Symbolist who, as well as exhibiting at the Royal Academy, did commercial work for the railways. In 1924 he designed the poster ‘British Industries – Cotton’ for the London, Midland and Scottish Railway. The poster features a group of women working at looms weaving cotton; they are lost in thought, working silently without interaction with one another. The laborious work becomes serene under a glow of yellow and blue. This is not the harsh backbreaking reality of work in a cotton mill but the artist’s idealised interpretation.
These are features common to his painting, recurring symbolist themes of idealisation and dreamy contemplation which look strange to us now. In the context of the railway poster the anonymous women become part of British Industry, elevated alongside Steel and Coal, which were also featured as posters. They become part of the national workforce, served by the railways.
Cayley Robinson was Professor of Figure Composition and Decoration at the Glasgow School of Art which is perhaps not surprising; the sharp outline of his flattened figures show the illustrative qualities of his work while the varying poses of the women show off his skills in representing the human body, a popular device with artists throughout the ages.
The NRM collection holds both the poster and the original poster artwork for ‘British Industries – Cotton’.