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‘Acts of Mercy’

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In a 2003 piece for the LRB on Piero della Francesca, Nicholas Penny wrote:

A fine example of their combined influence can be found in the entrance hall of London’s Middlesex Hospital, where the four large canvases of The Acts of Mercy by the now almost entirely forgotten Frederick Cayley Robinson are preserved beside the usual brash modern signage. They were painted for the hospital’s previous building during the First World War (the two best are dated 1915 and 1916), and their hushed atmosphere, tense geometry and subdued colour scheme respond to the grim anxieties of the Home Front, as well as to their original classical setting. The figures wait – for the doctor, for food, for peace. A columnar tree cuts across ashlar. Greys tending to lilac, mauve and olive green set off the plain white bowls of the orphans and the clean bandages of the wounded. The glowing oil lamp in the foreground and the sash window illuminated in the sober terrace beyond are at once marvellous and mundane, as light always is in Piero’s work.

The paintings are now on show at the National Gallery until 17 October.


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