I happened upon some photographs of art works by one John Atkinson Grimshaw. The works were beautiful and fascinating, but it also set me to wondering as to fame and success: Why do artists such as Gauguin, van Gogh, Constable, Pollock and Warhol become famous and others, such as Grimshaw, remain in obscurity and little acknowledged? Then it struck me: fame is not always based on merit or contribution to society. If it were, the media would not report on the doings of the Kardashians or focus as much on the dispute between former lovebirds Mariah Carey and James Packer.
John Grimshaw (1836-1893) was an English Victorian-era artist known for his city night-scenes and landscapes.
Grimshaw's primary influence was the Pre-Raphaelites. True to the Pre-Raphaelite style, he created landscapes of accurate colour and lighting, vivid detail and realism, often typifying seasons or a type of weather. Moonlit views of city and suburban streets and of the docks in London, Leeds, Liverpool and Glasgow also figured largely in his art. His careful painting and his skill in lighting effects meant that he captured both the appearance and the mood of a scene in minute detail. His "paintings of dampened gas-lit streets and misty waterfronts conveyed an eerie warmth as well as alienation in the urban scene."
On Hampstead Hill is considered one of Grimshaw's finest works, exemplifying his skill with a variety of light sources, in capturing the mood of the passing of twilight into night. In his later career his urban scenes under twilight or yellow streetlighting were popular with his middle-class patrons.
His later work included imagined scenes from the Greek and Roman empires, and he painted literary subjects from Longfellow and Tennyson.
In the 1880s, Grimshaw maintained a London studio in Chelsea, not far from the studio of James Abbott McNeill Whistler. After visiting Grimshaw, Whistler remarked that "I considered myself the inventor of Nocturnes until I saw Grimmy's moonlit pictures." Unlike Whistler's Impressionistic night scenes Grimshaw worked in a realistic vein: "sharply focused, almost photographic", his pictures innovated in applying the tradition of rural moonlight images to the Victorian city, recording "the rain and mist, the puddles and smoky fog of late Victorian industrial England with great poetry."
Grimshaw's paintings depicted the contemporary world but eschewed the dirty and depressing aspects of industrial towns. Shipping on the Clyde, a depiction of Glasgow's Victorian docks, is a lyrically beautiful evocation of the industrial era. Grimshaw transcribed the fog and mist so accurately as to capture the chill in the damp air, and the moisture penetrating the heavy clothes of the few figures awake in the misty early morning.
Grimshaw died on 13 October 1893 of tuberculosis.
I am not usually a fan of photorealist art but Grimshaw’s works go beyond photorealist recording.
Here are twenty of his works:
On Hampstead Hill