Thursday, 1 November 2012

John Atkinson Grimshaw - Painter (1836 - 1893)

Mist, Moonlight and Melancholy - this post has been sitting in my 'Drafts' waiting to be released in November, a fitting month to show the work of John Atkinson Grimshaw.
I first became aware of his paintings about 25 years ago. He grew up in Leeds, and was at the forefront of a campaign to build an Art Gallery for the city, which after a long struggle eventually opened in 1888.
The opening of the Leeds City Art Gallery from the 'Illustrated London News'.
Leeds City Art Gallery
A Henry Moore sculpture sitting on the parapet; it is hardly surprising as next to the Art Gallery is the Henry Moore Institute which is connected to the Art Gallery by a walkway. Henry Moore was a student at Leeds Art College along with fellow student Barbara Hepworth.

Nightfall on the River Thames

Shipping on the Clyde
Atkinson Grimshaw is possibly unique among Victorian artists in being completely self-taught. Most successful 19th century artists came from the middle-classes, with their families supporting them financial over the lengthy training period, and also when their apprentice pieces were unsellable; Grimshaw is one of very few artists who emerged from a working class environment, where no financial support was available.
Silver Moonlight
Moonlight Whafedale, Yorkshire
Park Row, Leeds
He developed a style of landscapes and townscapes which relied upon very exact observations and which developed into his distinctive moonlit views. He mainly worked and painted in the northern part of England, and also had a great fascination and attraction to all things maritime - ships, sea, and docks.
Whitby docks
Grimshaw mostly painted for private patrons, and exhibited only 5 works at the Royal Academy and one at the Grosvenor Gallery, London. 
Blea Tarn At First Light with Langdale Pikes in the distance - Cumbria, The English Lake District
A Golden Beam
An Autumn Idyll
One of the most compelling aspects of Grimshaw's paintings is his ability to evoke a particular atmosphere, often of melancholy. He frequently painted pictures where the main subject is an old building surrounded by trees; sometimes with a lone figure, invariably not a figure in sight, and yet there is a palpable presence in his paintings.
Bowder Stone, Borrowdale - It is just possible to make out a stairway to the top of the stone. This 2000 ton stone, 30 feet high 50 feet across and 90 feet in circumference, rests in a state of delicate balance. It was carried to the English Lake District from Scotland by glaciers during the Ice Age. It possibly gets its name from Balder, son of the Norse God Odin.
Grimshaw died of cancer aged 57 years, and sadly unlike many other artists he left behind no letters, journals, or papers; scholars and critics have little material on which to base their understanding of his life and career.
images courtesy wikipedia/wikipaintings

64 comments:

  1. His paintings are beautiful The colours, the depths and the themes attract me. It's a pitty one doesn't know more about him But in a way maybe he said it all with his work...

    You just made my day with your post : )

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    1. Dear Demie - it has made my day too that you enjoyed seeing his paintings so much. Perhaps another 'M' should be added to the mix - mysterious, there is an air of mystery surrounding both his life and his work.

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  2. Hello Rosemary
    ohn Atkinson Grimshaw was a master draftsman. I can assume he would have been a great architect if he wished.

    His understanding of light is superb. There is a purity to his work without it being "too pretty".
    Melancholy is a perfect word for the feeling his work invokes.

    Thanks for sharing this fascinating post

    Helen xx

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    1. Dear Helen - surely it is must be the early hours of the morning with you? but lovely to hear from you.
      So pleased that you enjoyed seeing John Atkinson Grimshaw's paintings. You are right his paintings just miss being 'too pretty' and 'chocolate boxy'. He did have the ability to evoke a particular atmosphere which you can feel as you look at the paintings.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comments Helen.

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    2. Hi Rosemary

      You are right, I was awake at 5.00 a.m this morning. Some neighbouring party revellers, returning from a Halloween street party, were responsible for waking me up. On the positive side they were all jolly and giggling, perhaps cocktails were involved

      Helen xx

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    3. That is amusing Helen. When your comment came in I thought gosh that is early for the States.

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  3. Dear Rosemary,wish you a happy November month!Atkinson Grimshaw paintings,are magnificent!They look like real pictures!Thank you for sharing this beautiful post with us!(I am still in the cafe bar)!

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    1. Hello Dimi - you are obviously enjoying yourself in the cafe/bar, do you have friends with you?
      Glad that you enjoyed seeing Atkinson Grimshaw's paintings, he was a master at portraying the townscapes and landscapes of northern England during the Victorian era.

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  4. Hello Rosemary:
    The quality of Grimshaw's draughtsmanship is very evident in so many of the paintings which you have selected to show here. And yes, as you say, his work does evoke a particular sense of melancholy, particularly where his subject is autumnal. Perhaps not strangely at all, he very much fits one's stereotype of the Victorian artist, for he does after all belong very much to that period.

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    1. Dear Jane and Lance - you are right he does fit the stereotypical Victorian artist. Surprisingly, perhaps, he also did some fairy paintings being a popular genre at that time. They probably suited his style as they required extreme attention to detail of which he was a master.

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  5. I didn't knew so much about him as painter's name . I liked the earthy colors ,I think he liked to paint at night , at fall,near the rivers .I have watched the details of the trees .I liked very much the two paintings with the road and the lady which walking . Thank you for this post Rosemary !
    Have a nice day !
    Olympia

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    1. Dear Olympia - Most of his paintings do have a feeling of late Autumn and the time of year when the Harvest moon is in the sky. He did do some paintings with a lighter summery feel to them, but for the greater part of his life until his death he explored the effects of mist and moonlight and the dying light of an autumn afternoon.

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    2. I am thinking just now that the paintings of mist and moon light matching with Jim 's card collection at night .May be he will founds similarities ...
      Have a happy month
      Olympia

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    3. Exactly the same thought came to me too Olympia when I first saw Jim's post. I knew that I had this one on the back burner waiting for November, and he just pipped me to the post, so to speak.

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  6. It is so good to be back enjoying yet another of your informative and interesting posts Rosemary.

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    1. That is so kind of you to say, and so pleased that you enjoyed it. I do hope that you have been having a lovely time whilst away.

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  7. Oh, thank you so much for bringing this painter to my attention! The paintings you've posted feel as if they have been made for my eyes, they speak to me :) As I scrolled onto the first photo I thought at first it was one that you had taken. It captures your countryside so beautifully :)

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    1. Dear Rosemary - I am so happy that you enjoyed meeting John Atkinson Grimshaw. He is a painter that has remained hidden for a long time, but now his light is beginning to shine again.

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  8. A wonderful post about an artist of whom I'd never heard, Rosemary. Thank you so much for bringing him to my attention with such a lovely selection of his works. I too find it amazing that he could be so technically good, given his humble beginnings.

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    1. He was one of the most successful artists of his day and that is why he had no need to put his paintings in the Royal Academy Exhibitions. However, as with many Victorian painters in the 20th century his paintings went out of favour. He did not live long enough to see his paintings plummet in popularity, or to suffer the ignominy of having his work sell for grudgingly low prices. His paintings today are enjoying a renaissance.

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  9. Hello Rosemary, These paintings are very beautiful, and so perfect for this time of year. Grimshaw is the fine-art equivalent and predecessor for the night scenes I recently featured.

    I admire the Hudson River school of natural grandeur, and I noticed that Grinshaw is able to capture a lot of that feeling but on a very intimate scale. Also, his trees and masts have a certain quality that I have noticed in 19th century albumen photographs; I wonder if he worked in photography or studied that also.

    Incidentally, I knew I had seen one of those golden autumnal streetscapes before:
    http://collections.britishart.yale.edu/vufind/Record/1671004

    --Road to Parnassus

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    1. Dear Jim - you can probably guess what I thought when I saw your night scene cards, but you know what they say 'great minds think alike'.
      There was a major exhibition about two years ago, and many of his paintings were lent from private collections - paintings that had never been seen before. Amongst some of the items that turned up were his sketch book and his photograph album which did reveal his research techniques. So yes, I do know that he did take photographs which he used to assist in his painting.
      I have had a look at the Yale painting and it is very similar to 'Golden Beam'. Funnily enough my first introduction to him was one of those golden autumn views with a road and high wall, they do impact on the memory.

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  10. Silver moonlight my fav.!!! BIG HEADER..!!!.

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    1. Hello Sharon - glad you liked Silver Moonlight - but please what does BIG HEADER mean? I am not very good on internet lingo.

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  11. Dear Rosemary,
    Thank you for sharing J.A. Grimshaw's work-- he has, until now, been unknown to me, but I find his work and life story to be so beautiful and melancholy, as you've described. It's amazing that he was able to rise from his difficult circumstances and master this type of very complicated, atmospheric painting. His work is so carefully observed and all the more amazing considering he was self-taught. Moonlight Whafedale, Yorkshire is my favorite, I think. I'll keep a look out for his name in exhibition announcements from now on--thank you!
    Warm regards,
    Erika

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    1. Dear Erika - As a young man he was obviously determined to be an artist. He defied his strictly religious parents and left a job with the railway to become an artist, and indeed rapidly made a name for himself. First he became known for his Pre-Raphaelite style landscapes, and then for his interpretation of the Victorian city and the new urban experience of its inhabitants. So pleased to have been able to introduce him to you, and that you enjoyed seeing his work.

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  12. Wonderful! I enjoy posts like this enormously. It seems as though Grimshaw was guided by gold and silver; both light and symbolism, I believe. I have been immersing myself in French art of the same period(especially garden themes). There is a certain melancholy to be found there indeed. Another joy for me to be found in this post is the trip down memory lane for I spent a glorious year studying in Yorkshire two decades ago and it is fascinating to see well-known places depicted here by this fabulous artist.

    Thank you so much Rosemary.

    Stephanie

    Stephanie

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    1. Dear Stephanie - it is lovely that this post took you down memory lane.
      One of the most compelling aspects of Grimshaw's paintings is his ability to evoke a particular atmosphere in which he does use gold and silver. The golden glows in his autumnal paintings and the silver glows in his moonlit landscapes.
      So glad that you enjoyed seeing them.

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  13. What a wonderful artist - I had not heard of him - your posts are always enlightening.

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    1. Dear Susan - you are not alone in never having heard of him, I would say the majority of commenters have said the same. I am glad that you enjoyed seeing his work, and I am sure that should you see his paintings again you will recognise them.

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  14. I have never heard of Grimshaw, despite being a Northerner and a lover of Leeds! Fascinating. Very rarely I come across a painter and feel I would love to have one of his or her paintings on my wall but I would dearly love a Grimshaw. Out of my league I suspect!

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    1. Dear Elizabeth - perhaps 30 years ago a Grimshaw could have been picked up for a reasonable price, but not today. If you are in Leeds the Art Gallery does have quite a few of his paintings which are normally on show.

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  15. As with quite a few comments, I hadn't heard or this artist before but what an artist...wow, I was captivated by his art! Thank you for bringing him to my attention. Suzy x

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    1. It is pleasing that so many commenters have been attracted to his work. I think that it is a case of once seen never forgotten, his paintings are memorable.

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  16. This is an excellent serie of pictures. Like also the drawing.

    Greetings,
    Filip

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    1. Thank you Filip - it is satisfying that you enjoyed seeing them.

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  17. Dear Rosemary,

    Blae Tarn at First Light is a spectacular painting isn't it?

    I first came across John Grimshaw in the 1990s when I saw a painting of his come up for auction at (I think) Christies. As Jane and Lance say, a typical VIctorian in his style and even in his subject matter.

    Thank you for writing this post.

    Kirk

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    1. Dear Kirk - yes, I would be very happy to hang that on my walls.
      I think that you and Jim are the only commenters who know his work, and it sounds as if you discovered him at about the same time as I did.
      He was very very successful and had lots of patrons, and that is why so much of his work is in private hands. Who knows how he may have developed if he had lived to be much older.

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  18. Dear Rosemary,

    What I notice in all of these fine atmospheric paintings is that John Grimshaw liked to capture the long perspective. I am unfamiliar with his work, but I like that he was able to capture dusk, or what I call "the pink time." (I guess in his case, it was the "yellow time!") What a shame he died too young.

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    1. Dear Mark - his long perspectives and atmospheric light are definitely his hallmarks. It would have been interesting to know how he may have developed if he had lived longer. At the end of his life he was even more preoccupied with questions of colour, tone and light. He produced a series of tiny, subtly-toned oil paintings that captured the extraordinary light of the sun, snow and mist on the beach, so he was still in the process of exploring other effects.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed seeing them Ioana.

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  20. Hi Rosemary
    I studied art and art history at A level and know little of his work, but I love his use of light in these atmospheric paintings.
    Thank you so much for sharing and bringing his work to our attention.
    Beautiful
    Sophie

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    1. Hello Sophie - I would love to have been able to study art history at school, but the subject did not exist in my day. I have been catching up ever since.
      During Grimshaw's lifetime he was extremely successful and had lots of patrons, but then fell into oblivion during the 20th century following the demise of most Victorian painters. However, his star is now in the accent again.

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  21. Beautiful paintings! I love the colours used and they do fit this period of the year perfectly. You were so right to save them for a november post.
    Bye,
    Marian

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    1. Dear Marian - although he did paint some summer garden views and also did some fairy paintings most of them do take place at around this season. His obvious fascination with mists and moon were his love.

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  22. How beautiful.
    'Tis a pity not much is known about him.

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    1. Following a fairly recent exhibition a little more has come to light about him. He had a very large family, and was very much the caring father.

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  23. It is always nice to learn about new artists. John Atkinson Grimshaw is a very talented artist. He mixed all the colours so well to evoke an emotion of melancholy and mystery. Also nice to see portraits of the Northern England landscapes. Too bad there were nothing else preserved about him except for his works of art. Thanks for sharing. Have a great weekend.

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    1. Dear Pamela - thank you for your comment, and glad that you enjoyed seeing the paintings of John Atkinson Grimshaw. It was extraordinary the way he became so successful even though he did not have any training.

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  24. Hello, Rosemary -
    I enjoyed learning about John Atkinson Grimshaw. He clearly had a point of view, and a uniqueness in his works. I find the lighting most interesting...especially dramatic with the silhouette of the bare trees. Very sad Grimshaw died so young.
    Loi

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    1. Dear Loi - he definitely appears to have been passionate about different light effects, and towards the end of his life was exploring sunlight on snow and mists on beaches, so I am sure, had he lived, a different genre of pictures would have been painted.
      I saw on Kirk's post that you are in Scandanavia, so hope that you are having a happy and successful time there.

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    2. We are now in Copenhagen....returning home Monday. It's a bit dreary and damp here, but I still love it. Thanks, Rosemary!

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    3. Hope you have found lots of lovely things to take home and show to us.

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  25. Did I just read a post about paintings? Oh my God. I'm fainting. I LOVE art. I was an art student and worked as an illustrator for sever years. I spent half of my life lost in pictures of paintings, wishing to half as good. Unfortunately I'm not, but I still love to draw, I adore it. It is my escape. I don't do it for a living anymore ( it was a really difficult living) but I always pray that one day I'll be able to make it my profession, again.

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    1. Dear Bobbie - I believe once an artist always an artist. I am sure that in time you will come back to it - I will keep my fingers crossed for you.

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  26. Dear Rosemary,
    I am just returning to see the super comments on this most interesting post .
    I truly thought that i had left a comment.
    I am very taken with John Atkinson Grimshaw's work.. I have never heard or seen his work.
    What an amazing artist. He truly captures the late night evenings with the big houses and the lights burning from the windows. I particularly like the Autumn Idyll.. its beautiful, the girl looks so lonley walking home alone.
    thank you Rosemary for introducing me to Grimshaw and his art.. Gosh, how i would love to be able to paint like that..
    val

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    1. Dear Val - The figures in Grimshaw's paintings do mostly look solitary and that must be part if his technique. It gives the viewer of the painting a question mark hanging over the picture making you wonder about them. Where are they going, and what are they doing all alone, and often in a lonely spot?
      Glad you enjoyed seeing his work Val.

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  27. Hello Rosemary,
    I visited your blog today - I saw you on sweet Olympia's blog. Your photos are so beautiful and unique. While I was scrolling down, I noticed the picture of the orange Autumn tree. I just did a post about how amazing it is when the leaves change color. Me and my daughters also have a blog, and we would love it if you could visit us and follow. I would enjoy coming back to visit with you. Your pictures are vibrant with color, and your blog is very cheerful to me. I hope to hear from you, and have a sweet day.
    ~Sheri at Red Rose Alley

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    1. Hello Sheri - thank you for your visit and for your lovely comments. I shall make a moment to pop over and have a look at you and your daughters blog. Look forward to seeing you there.

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  28. Grimshaw is, of course, very well known and popular in Yorkshire where we live. Exhibitions of his work occur fairly often, though it was still interesting to see all the examples you show. I'm going to be a lone dissenter because I actually find them a little disappointing "in the flesh" - his real gift was his ability to create an instant stunning atmospheric effect but, for me, the paintings lack real depth and, amongst other faults, show an imperfect grasp of perspective. For many paintings he relied on photographs rather than painting from life, projecting the photographic image onto the canvas for an instant composition, then filling in with tiny brushes. A clever trick, but after the initial pleasing impression they seem rather shallow.
    They were, however, a great commercial success and were eagerly bought by rich Yorkshire businessmen, to hang in their "brass castles".

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    1. Dear Nilly - I am very pleased to have your pertinent comments regarding Grimshaw. You more than anyone else have a more objective eye having seen so many of the paintings for yourself. I had read that he used photography in that way, a novel approach. A lot of painters do use photographs but not in that particular way. He probably would have been a much more proficient painter had he been able to afford to attend Art School, something he was deprived of.
      I suspect that because he was so successful at selling his work to the rich Yorkshire businessmen, he continued in the same vein that brought in the revenue to feed his large family.

      H did a post for me on Norman Cornish, I do not know whether you know of him, but he was one of the mining artists from Spennymore in County Durham. He too was self taught.

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  29. Great post! I love landscape painters and I enjoyed learning more about this one, whose work I've admired for years. A friend shared one of his paintings on Facebook ("November Morning" 1886) and I was trying to find out what location is depicted. I found your blog and have enjoyed reading this post and comments!

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    1. Glad that this post helped you to find out more about Grimshaw - thanks for your visit.

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