JOHN ATKINSON GRIMSHAW
At the beginning of John Atkinson Grimshaw’s career there was one contemporary Leeds artist whose influence and example must be considered paramount. This was John William Inchbold. His pre-eminence lay in his intimate connection with the Pre-Raphaelite movement. The undoubted standing of Inchbold meant that Grimshaw had a successful technique to emulate and once he had established himself, the evidence of his own paintings speaks of a close interest in Pre-Raphaelite landscape. Grimshaw also had access during the 1850s, to the substantial Pre-Raphaelite painting collection of local wealthy businessman, Thomas Plint. The collection, including many works by leading members of the group, strongly influenced Grimshaw’s painting at that time.
Grimshaw often drew the titles for his paintings of the 1870s from contemporary literature. Not only was he directly inspired by the poetry of Wordsworth, Shelley, Tennyson and Browning, but Grimshaw also went so far as to name all of his five children after the characters in Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. By the mid 1870s Grimshaw had begun a new genre in the manner of his contemporary, James Tissot. This series of compositions of ‘fashionable’ women at home feature a solitary female, smartly dressed, modelled by his wife or one of his daughters. The setting was the interior of Grimshaw’s new home, Knostrop Old Hall. These detailed, highly fashionable, contemporary pictures were painted to satisfy a hungry market; they were commercial exercises.
Atkinson Grimshaw’s unique contribution to art, however, lies in his depiction of an atmospheric Victorian England. He painted scenes reminiscent of what had become lost forever, but sometimes glimpsed on damp, sun-lit autumnal evenings in the Victorian towns of Northern Britain. Amongst his admirers the artist, James McNeil Whistler is reputed to have said, I thought I had invented the nocturne, until I saw Grimmy's moonlights. Grimshaw’s paintings bring onlookers into a poetic world of cold misty evenings, streets reflecting the dying day in puddles wet enough to soak one’s boots, and autumn’s glow lit by wintry sunshine filtering through the darkening boughs and golden leaves.