A Winter's Evening is an exemplary work of Cayley Robinson's maturity, fusing the 'synthetic with the intimate' - a paradox Cecil French, in The Studio, 1922, op. cit., identified as key to the artist's oeuvre.
Robinson had only settled in London in 1914, after sojourns in Newlyn and Paris, and three years in Florence (1889-1902). He studied at both the Royal Academy and the Académie Julian, where his work registered the influence of Burne-Jones and Puvis de Chavannes. His naturalistic style was to become more and more consciously decorative. In Florence Robinson admired the early Italian masters, particularly the pure simplicity of artists such as Fra Angelico. His carefully plotted compositions owe something to both this august culture, and to the surreal aesthetic of de Chavannes and his contemporaries. Robinson was to experiment with working in egg tempera, in order to replicate the chalky and even tones of Renaissance fresco.
The artist's figures are often juxtaposed against a land or townscape, and yet are so salient, the effect is almost abstract, depthless, with shape defining shape. The linear strength of Robinson's draftsmanship enhances this design criteria. Indeed, in many ways, his work seems native to the Art Nouveau movement. However, at its best it conveys a profound emotive charge. Cecil French recalls his first encounter with Robinson's exhibits at the Society of British Artists: 'The potency of spell, the visionary strangeness, the almost desperate sincerity, of the new, mysterious, isolated artist brought to mind the first strenuous beginnings of the English Pre-Raphaelite group'.
Robinson executed a series of paintings based around the theme of a winter's evening. All feature women in repose, grouped together yet lost in individual thought. The atmosphere these works convey - one of peace, but also of slightly troubling stasis - is typically ambiguous. Equally beguiling are the costumes, that might derive from a religious painting, whilst the interior surfaces feature geometric patterns of a modern appearance. Finally, the scenes appear to transpose the rituals of humble life into a sophisticated civic space. In the present picture, for example, an elegant facade can be glimpsed through the window.
Although successful, Robinson did not court public acclaim. His exhibiting history - he became a member of the New English Art Club in 1912 and was prominent at the Royal Watercolour Society, as well as staging one-man shows at the Carfax and Leicester Galleries - reveals his ability to move between the establishment and its more avant-garde peripheries.
Robinson also gained recognition as a muralist, particularly from the celebrated Middlesex Hospital murals of 1915-20. Following his death in 1927, memorial exhibitions were held at both the Royal Academy (Winter 1928) and Leicester Galleries (1929).