- Arts and Design
John Atkinson Grimshaw
Yorkshire artist Atkinson Grimshaw - fog, fairies and fantasy
Grimshaw is a very English surname originating in the north.
Atkinson too is a name that is common in the northern counties of England. When I was a child, artists - to me - had named like Dali, Picasso or Renoir and it never occurred to me that an artist could be from my own area and have such a mundane name.
Atkinson Grimshaw seemed more like a name that you'd see over the local butcher's shop window.
But yet this artist is now renown for his fabulous townscapes and the astonishing way he portrayed light. The image you see on the left is just a small detail from one of his paintings. It's incredibly atmospheric and immediately invokes the sounds, the smells and the activity on what was an ordinary English street.
He was rather a mysterious figure however. When he died in 1893 he left no papers, no diaries and no notebooks.
He was born in Leeds in Yorkshire. He had a strict upbringing and he starting his working life as a clerk, employed by the local railway company. From these unlikely beginnings, he taught himself to paint.
Let's look at a close-up
The glistening cobblestone are completely entrancing. This is a detail of a street scene of the artist's hometown, Leeds in Yorkshire. See the tramlines and how they are shown to be reflecting the light. The lights are reflected, the lampposts cross the cobblestones which are pierced by the tramlines creating an abstract textural look and at the same time demonstrate realism and atmosphere.
Fairies were a popular motif in Victorian times. Indeed, people in those days in England largely believed in the existence of fairies. Indeed, the interest in fairies continued into the 1920s - thanks largely to the Cottingley fairy photographs that were taken in Yorkshire in 1917.
I tend to believe that the artist executed his fairy paintings to pander to the popular tastes of the time. However, these fairies are amongst his most popular works today.
People are still entranced by fairies. Maybe it's because of childhood memories of fairy tales.
Or perhaps we secretly hope that there are fairies around who can weave their magic. This painting is incredibly popular today.
Humber Docks - detail
This is a detail from a painting of Humber Dock in Hull, Yorkshire. Let me tell you what I find so remarkable about this painting. Take a look at the left of the detail above. Notice that we are told that water is there because of the reflected light.
- It seemed that he was very much on the road to success. His artwork had enabled him to live in a large house and spend the summer in a rented but palatial summer residence in Scarborough. Towards the end of the 1870s though, he experienced a mysterious financial loss. It's not known to this day what caused this sudden poverty.
- He was married to his cousin. She gave birth to a total of fifteen children but sadly, only six survived to become adults. This was unfortunately too common in England at that time. Large families were popular though - you'll recall that Queen Victoria had nine children. Several of his children also became painters.
- He signed his paintings in different ways throughout his career. Some have simply his initial - JAG. He then adopted the habit of using his first two initials and his surname and would also use his full name. Eventually he decided to drop his first name so is now more commonly known as Atkinson Grimshaw.
- A large body of his work can be seen at the Leeds City Art Gallery.
- Like many artists facing financial difficulties, he often paid his rent with paintings. In 2009 the family of one of his landlords put a previously unknown painting, which had been in the family since the 1880s, for sale at auction. It sold for £250,000.
- In 2010,one of the artist's paintings was sold at auction for £185,000. The owners who had put it up for sale had bought it fifty years previously for less than a hundred pounds.
- He was only fifty seven when he died of cancer in 1893.
Find artwork bargains on eBay
You'd be very unlikely to find an original painting by this artist on eBay but there are some bargain prints and reproductions. Good luck with bargain hunting!
© 2013 Jackie Jackson