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John Atkinson Grimshaw - Painter of Moonlight

From April until September 2011 The Mercer Art Gallery held the first major exhibition in over 30 years devoted to Victorian artist John Atkinson Grimshaw. The exhibition featured over 50 major paintings by this celebrated self-taught artist, including many works not seen in public for decades and generously lent by private collectors. 
 
The exhibition charts Grimshaw’s career, from his early Pre-Raphaelite paintings of the 1860s to the series of tiny, subtly toned oil paintings, produced at the end of his life, that captured the extraordinary light of sun, snow and mist.
Atkinson Grimshaw's Silver Moonlight and In the Gloaming (A Yorkshire Home) are two of the most popular works in the collection of the Mercer Art Gallery. The Leeds born artist became famous for his Pre-Raphaelite style landscapes and nocturnal urban scenes, with his distinctive leafless trees silhouetted against the moonlit sky. 
 
Accompanied by a new book about the artist and a full programme of talks and events. Find out more about the Atkinson Grimshaw book
Highlights of the show

In the Gloaming, 1878
, Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate Borough Council
. View larger image of In the Gloaming
Silver Moonlight, 1880, Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate Borough Council
. View larger image of Silver Moonlight

Boar Lane, Leeds, 1881 (oil on canvas) by Grimshaw, John Atkinson (1836-93). View larger image of Boar Lane, Leeds
On Loan to Leeds Museums and Galleries (City Art Gallery)/ The Bridgeman Art Library

Leeds Bridge, 1880 (oil on canvas) by Grimshaw, John Atkinson (1836-93). View larger image of Leeds Bridge
© Leeds Museums and Galleries (City Art Gallery) U.K./ The Bridgeman Art Library


Moonlight Wharfedale, c. 1860s, Private Collection, Christie's Images. View larger image of Moonlight Wharfedale

Scarborough, Yew Court, 1874 by Grimshaw, Atkinson, Scarborough Museum’s Trust
. View larger image of Scarborough, Yew Court

Park Row, Leeds, 1882 (oil on canvas) by Grimshaw, John Atkinson (1836-93). View larger image of Park Row, Leeds
© Leeds Museums and Galleries (City Art Gallery) U.K./ The Bridgeman Art Library

Grimshaw was a self-taught artist who worked in the North of England in the second half of the nineteenth century. He defied his strictly religious parents and left a good job with the railway to become an artist, and rapidly made a name for himself as a painter.
 
His early works were Pre Raphaelite style landscapes.  The Lake District was a favourite early source of inspiration, producing such early masterpieces as Blea Tarn, First Light, 1865 (Private Collection), and The Bowder Stone, Borrowdale, c.1865, now in the Tate Gallery.
 
He loved Yorkshire, in particular the beauties of Wharfedale, from classically picturesque subjects such as Bolton Abbey, to the public parks and woods around  Leeds. One of the most compelling aspects of Grimshaw’s painting is his ability to evoke a particular atmosphere, often of melancholy. He painted many pictures where the main subject is an old building surrounded by trees. There is not a figure in sight, yet there is a palpable presence in the painting.
 
Later Grimshaw created many interpretations of the Victorian city and the new urban experience of its inhabitants. Grimshaw enjoyed considerable success in his career, and took his brood of children to live in some splendour at Knostrop Hall, a large old rented house in Leeds, with a spell of several years spent in similar style living in Scarborough.
 
He worked prolifically and was constantly on the lookout to find ways of making money in order to support his large family. He was not afraid to experiment, making theatrical fairy paintings and allegorical portraits of fashionable women.
 
At the end of his life, Grimshaw was more preoccupied than ever with questions of colour, tone and light. He produced a series of tiny, subtly toned oil paintings that captured the extraordinary light of sun, snow and mist on the beach.
Grimshaw died of liver disease at the age of 57. The local paper marked his passing, ‘By the death of Mr Atkinson Grimshaw, of Knostrop Old Hall, yesterday morning, a Leeds artist of very great ability has passed away. He may be regarded as self-taught in all that gave character and distinction to his art. His methods, treatment and colouring were quite unlike anything in ordinary practice. Originality stamped his work from the first, and some of the effects which, early in his career, were successfully attempted, excited considerable controversy among contemporary artists. They showed no marks of handling or brushwork, and not a few artists were doubtful whether they could be accepted as paintings at all.’

The exhibition included paintings and drawings by Grimshaw’s artistically talented sons and daughter. Newly discovered family photographs, lent by descendants and private and public owners, reveal the private side of the artist’s life: his tenderness towards his children, his love of nature and his sense of fun.