Wednesday, March 27, 2013

John Atkinson Grimshaw's "Moonlights"

Silver Moonlight, 1880 source

John Atkinson Grimshaw, from what we know, was a very private, self-taught artist who painted these trancendental moonlight scenes from his "Castle by the Sea". His work was sucessful in his lifetime, but like many subtle and quite works, are not widley appreciated (though there's great interest amongst collectors and there was recently a retrospective exhibition in London). I dont't think the intention of the artist ever was for them to be widely appreciated, anyway. They were commisioned by private patrons, for private meditation (initially members of the Leeds Philosophical and Litereary Society and later middle class patrons, source).

Yew Court, Scalby 1870's source

Southwaark Bridge from Blackfriar's 1882 source

 He mastered capturing the most solemn, crisp, clear, atmospheric, nights; those nights, which create such a serene environment that the most sublime thoughts  are free to pass through the mind. Any thought feels profound, actually, during certain magical, fresh, evenings. Sometimes, Grimshaw mixed in sand and "other materials" into his paint. This reminds me of Anselm Kiefer. His paintings are sometimes full of bits of objects, pieces of the subject matter itself in the paint, as part of a conceptual work of art. I wonder If the mixed in materials in Grimshaw's paintings have any particular significance beyond an interesting technical effect. Maybe he though about it on one of his long walks.

Prince's Dock, Hull 1882 source

Hampstead Hill, Looking Down Heath Street 1881 source

 I see the phrase "unfashionably versatile"  in every biography of Grimshaw (source), a very strange comment. While he did paint subjects other than nocturnes, he was one to discriminate. All his work is united with the theme of introspection in a "modern" world. Here are all his paintings, all united by an ambiance, serious and solitary reflection. He was loyal to his chosen subject and experimented with many techniques, to portray said subject perfectly. He used a camera obscura, and I think he may have used a camera lucida for his portraits, which were also very masterfully done. He might just as easily have been a great portraitist but it just wasn't his niche. 

Elaine 1877 source

Humber Docks, Hull 1884 source

He also painted over photographs and some of his buildings are taken from architectural plates source. I also can't help but to be reminded of Maxfield Parrish by the luminous atmospheric effect the Grimshaw paintings  have, and the odd fact that both artists' paintings are actually very sophisticated collages. Some of them even have a computer-generated feel (any of these would make delightful murals, by the way).  I am fascinated by how paintings are actually constructed, and how different the reality is from the idea that an artist just sits at his easel and paints. I am not one of those people for whom the magic is gone when the trick is revealed. Often the more is known about a piece of art, the more questions materialize. It only gets more interesting. Grimshaw and other wonderful artists on Art Inconnu. Tonight is a night like one of these, I hope you enjoy it.

Park Row, Leads 1882 source

A Wet Road by Moonlight, Wharfedale 1871 source

Moonlight on the Lake, Roundhay Parl, Leeds 1872 source

Lovers in a Wood 1873 source


  1. Oh wow, Xe! I LOVE every single one of these! And any of them would fit in my home! SO beautiful. Thanks for bringing them to my attention, I will have to look for prints.

  2. Also, not sure you are aware, but you are posting this on the night of the full moon, quite appropriately!

    1. Yes, I waited for a fulll moon. I'm glad you really like these


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