John Atkinson Grimshaw

A golden glow

Oil on card: 12(h) x 20(w) in /

30.5(h) x 50.8(w) cm

Signed and dated lower right: Atkinson Grimshaw / 1883+

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BT 306

 

JOHN ATKINSON GRIMSHAW

1836 – Leeds – 1893

 

A golden glow

 

Signed and dated lower right: Atkinson Grimshaw / 1883+

Oil on card: 12 x 20 in / 30.5 x 50.8 cm

Frame size: 21 ¼ x 29 ¼ in / 54 x 74.3 cm

 

Provenance:

Private collection

Sotheby’s London, 6th November 1968, lot 181

Private collection, Hampstead, UK

 

 

The present composition of a figure walking down a lane bathed in autumnal sunshine, with a Victorian mansion hidden behind an imposing park wall, was a theme that Grimshaw worked on principally in the 1880s and 1890s. A golden glow has a soft luminosity that distinctly marks the season and conjures up ‘the smell of damp leaves in the air, and the bright but chill light of autumn’ with a beautiful naturalism.[1] The winding lane is adorned with leafless trees, their branches silhouetted against the pale yellow sky which intensifies towards the horizon with the rich, saturated glow of the setting sun. With fallen leaves scattering flecks of gold across the lane, Grimshaw evokes nostalgia for a decaying ‘golden’ age, further enhanced by the figure of a maid wearing eighteenth century costume.

 

The large mansion on the left, veiled by trees and the failing light, seems to possess several features belonging to Knostrop Old Hall, a seventeenth century mansion about two miles from the centre of Leeds, where the artist and his family lived from 1870 and which featured in many of his paintings. The artist’s combination of archaising architectural elements with an evocative twilight tonality seems to reflect the passage of time and induce a contemplation of the past.  ‘For Grimshaw, living in a real Jacobean manor house, it would seem that past and present were equally real; just as myth and legend were to be plundered for subjects, so actual and historical houses could be put together to form an archetypal mansion…Most of Grimshaw’s suburban lanes tantalize the spectator by looking very familiar and yet are quite unidentifiable.’[2] 

 

In 1883 Grimshaw used the same large half-timbered house several times in different settings, making each variation unique. A golden glow exemplifies Grimshaw’s strong connection to the ideal of the family home, which was of paramount importance in Victorian society. It is thought that Grimshaw shared his ideals with fellow artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler, along with their joint affinity to nature. Whistler was even listed as one of Grimshaw’s friends in his Yorkshire Post obituary. An annotated copy of Whistler’s The Gentle Art of Making Enemies embodies this, in which Grimshaw had marked a famous passage from his Ten O’Clock Lecture – ‘… the warehouses are palaces in the night, and the whole city hangs in the heavens, and fairy-land is before us – then the wayfarer hastens home; the working man and the cultured one, the wise man and the one of pleasure, cease to understand, as they have ceased to see, and Nature, who, for once, has sung in tune, sings her exquisite song to the artist alone, her son and master – her son in that he loves her, her master in that he knows her.’

 

 

                           

November Morning, Knostrop Hall, Leeds, 1883                       An Autumn Idyll, 1885

Oil on canvas: 61 x 86.4 cm                                             Oil on canvas: 74 x 61.5 cm

Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead                                        Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum

 

 

JOHN ATKINSON GRIMSHAW

1836 – Leeds – 1893

 

John Atkinson Grimshaw was a Victorian artist who became famous for his sombre views of the dockyards and his nocturnal scenes of urban lanes with leafless trees silhouetted against the moonlit sky. During his later life, he became a close friend of James McNeill Whistler who admired his work and admitted: ‘I thought I had invented the Nocturne, until I saw Grimmy’s moonlights’.

 

Born in Leeds, the son of an ex-policeman, Grimshaw first took up painting while he was employed as a clerk for the Great Northern Railway. He married his cousin Frances Theodosia Hubbarde in 1858 and by 1861, he had abandoned his job in order to devote all his time to becoming an artist. In his early work, John Atkinson Grimshaw was influenced by John Ruskin’s creed of ‘truth to nature’ and adopted the detailed Pre-Raphaelite technique of the Leeds painter, John William Inchbold. He was also fascinated by the relatively new art of photography and may have used a camera obscura in developing his compositions. Towards 1865, Grimshaw painted many urban scenes in which moonlight and shadows were the most striking features. The towns and docks that he painted most frequently were Glasgow, Liverpool, Leeds, Scarborough, Whitby and London. These works have become his best known though he also painted landscapes, portraits, interior scenes, fairy pictures and neo-classical subjects. Grimshaw painted mostly for private patrons. He exhibited five works at the Royal Academy in 1874, 1880, 1885 and 1886. He also exhibited at Sir Coutts Lindsay’s Grosvenor Gallery in 1885.

 

By 1870, Grimshaw had become successful enough to move to Knostrop Old Hall, a seventeenth century mansion about two miles from the centre of Leeds, which featured in many of his paintings. He rented another home near Scarborough which he called ‘The Castle by the Sea’, towards 1876. Grimshaw suffered a serious financial disaster in 1879 and had to leave his house at Scarborough. He moved to London from 1885-87 and rented a studio in Chelsea, leaving his family at Knostrop. He returned to Knostrop, where he died in 1893. Several of his children, Arthur Grimshaw (1864-1913), Louis H Grimshaw (1870-1944), Wilfred Grimshaw (1871-1937) and Elaine Grimshaw (1877-1970), became painters.

 

The work of John Atkinson Grimshaw is represented in the Bradford City Art Gallery, the Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead, the Gloucester Museum and Art Gallery, the Bankfield Museum, Halifax, the Harrogate Museums and Art Gallery, the Ferens Art Gallery, Kingston-upon-Hull, the Huddersfield Art Gallery, Kirklees Metropolitan Council, the Harris Art Gallery, Preston, the Leeds City Art Gallery, the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, the Guildhall Art Gallery and Tate Britain, London, the Scarborough Art Gallery, the Wakefield Art Gallery and Museums, the Pannett Gallery, Whitby, the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Brest, France, the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut, the Nelson-Atkins Gallery, Kansas City, Missouri, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, the Museum of Art, New Orleans, Louisiana, the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island in the United States, the Shepparton Art Centre, Welsford, Victoria, Australia and the King George VI Art Gallery, Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Alexander Robertson, Atkinson Grimshaw, Phaidon, London, 1988, p.102.

[2] A. Robertson, Atkinson Grimshaw, Phaidon, London, 2000, p.95.

VictorianJohn Atkinson Grimshaw