Cultured Wednesday: John Atkinson Grimshaw

Here we have an artist who wasn’t devoted to the vastness of the American wilderness, but to the cityscapes of the Old World, the UK in particular.  John Atkinson Grimshaw, who lived during the reign of Queen Victoria, is considered one of the most renowned painters of that era, as well as one of the best night- and townscape artists of all time, and we happen to agree.

JAG Reflections on the Thames 1880
Reflections on the Thames, Westminster, 1880

John Atkinson Grimshaw was born on September 6th, 1836, in Leeds, West Yorkshire, England.  In 1856, he married, and the couple had 15 children, all of whom were named after fictional characters in Tennyson’s Idylls of the King.  Nine of their children died before reaching adulthood, but of the remaining six, four became painters as well.

JAG On Hampstead Hill
On Hampstead Hill

The landscapes John Atkinson Grimshaw created were realistic, as in, of accurate color and lighting, and vivid detail.  Most famous are his moonlit views of city and suburban streets and of the docks in London, Hull, Liverpool and Glasgow.  The scenes he painted are eerie, and you expect Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson to appear any minute now, but at the same time the light pouring out of windows onto the wet cobblestones invites you in, and speaks of warmth and comfort.

The moods of the different season also feature prominently in John Atkinson Grimshaw’s paintings.  The one below captures beautifully the late afternoon light of mid-fall, around the time when heading home begins to sound like a wonderful idea.

Late October, 1882

John Atkinson Grimshaw died on October 13th, 1893, and is buried in Leeds General Cemetery, having lived in the Leeds area basically all his life.  As a last example of his marvelous paintings, we leave you with this less real, but no less realistic one of the Spirit of the Night.

JAG Spirit of the Night 1879
Spirit of the Night, 1879

Featured: Shipping on the Clyde, 1881



11 Replies to “Cultured Wednesday: John Atkinson Grimshaw”

  1. I don’t know Grimshaw (a really good Yorkshire name!) so, once again, thank you. He really does capture the mystery of London by night. That makes me think that it is almost part of the purpose of modern lighting to eliminate mystery. As you say, Sherlock Holmes could easily emerge from the gloom.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, mysteries surely have lost the capital letter and have been degraded to riddles in our modern time, and lighting is most definitely part of that whole issue.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. How mysterious and beautiful! One of the hardest things to paint is water, or reflections in water. Not for Grimshaw, apparently. And the quotes by Uncle Carl and Cousin Hank are very true. Thank you, I very much enjoyed this post, as always.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. A wonderful post, Anne! I’m a big Grimshaw fan. I was reading that part of his innovations in painting and his talent in rendering the wet cobblestones and fog were due to his financial struggles. These tricks he used included applying thin layers of paint, using a limited color palette and experimenting with the varnish so that it dried faster.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, how very interesting indeed! I had no idea!

      There is a German saying: “Not ist die Mutter der meisten Erfindungen; Faulheit ihr Vater.”, meaning that need or necessity is the mother of most inventions, and laziness their father. In this case, need seems to have lead to the creation of something quite extraordinary, to the point where one could call it an invention.

      Liked by 1 person

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