John Atkinson Grimshaw created many masterpieces and is seen by art critics and historians as one of the best Victorian painters. Art historians believe that he was so successful because he could merge, transform and develop different influences such as the Pre-Raphaelite ideas and Aestheticism to create his unique style.
Because most of Atkinson’s paintings describe the more aesthetic aspects of the Victorian era, many art lovers would love to have a Grimshaw or reproduction of one of his works in their homes. In this article, we’ll have a brief look at Grimshaw’s life and work to establish what influenced his artworks.
Learn about John Grimshaw – a brief Review of his Life and Art
John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836–1893) was an English artist and is considered one of the greatest Victorian-era painters. The most famous John Atkinson Grimshaw paintings are his nocturnal scenes of urban landscapes, also called “townscapes.” Many art critics and historians believe that Grimshaw created artworks depicting the best townscapes and nightscapes of all time.
Grimshaw’s depictions of his subjects are very realistic. Art scholars agree that his love for realism was partly because of his other passion – photography. Sometimes he projected scenes on the canvas by using camera obscura techniques. Some critics believe this camera obscura technique compensated for his shortcomings as a draughtsman and his poor knowledge of perspective.
Many of his contemporaries condemned him because of this technique, as they had the notion that an artist should paint by eye rather than using “artificial devices.” Today, however, he is recognized for his mastery of color, lighting, and shadow. His works also provoke strong emotional responses in the viewer. Although Grimshaw successfully depicted the urban England of his time, he avoided the industrial towns’ depressing aspects.
Interesting Facts about Atkinson, the Artist
John Atkinson Grimshaw was born in Leeds, where his father was a policeman. Atkinson started to work as a young man as a clerk for the Great Northern Railway until he decided to become a full-time artist. However, as a strict Baptist, his mother strongly disapproved of his interest in painting. On one occasion, she destroyed all his paint.
Grimshaw never had any formal art education or training and was entirely self-taught. But he had the insight to learn from other artists’ works and utilized different influences to develop his own unique style.
Grimshaw signed all his later works as “Atkinson Grimshaw.” His earliest works were signed “JAG.” Before he settled on “Atkinson Grimshaw,” he also used “John Atkinson Grimshaw” and “J. A. Grimshaw” as his signature. Four of his children, Arthur E, Louis H, Wilfred, and Elaine, also became painters.
Different Influences on John Atkinson Grimshaw’s Artworks
When you check John Atkinson Grimshaw paintings, you can recognize different influences on his work. Other artists, art movements, and urban development all had in some way an influence on his work.
John Ruskin, an English writer, philosopher, and art critic, definitely influenced Grimshaw with his creed of “truth to nature,” which encouraged painters to closely observe and capture the natural world as truthfully as possible. Atkinson was also influenced by the detailed Pre-Raphaelite technique of the Leeds painter John William Inchbold.
As a result, Grimshaw’s first works featured still life and nature. But in this same period, the Pre-Raphaelite preference for vivid realism influenced him. James Tissot’s Aestheticism also influenced him, and in most of his paintings, he emphasized the pleasant, positive, and artful appearance of a person or another subject.
The influence of Aestheticism is also seen in Atkinson Grimshaw’s “no depressing” depictions of the English industrial towns. During the same time, Grimshaw became fascinated with the effects of moonlight and sunsets on landscapes, townscapes, and dockyards, especially in Glasgow, Liverpool, Whitby, London, and Scarborough. He accurately depicted the cities’ wet streets and misty watersides, capturing the typical Victorian industrialized cities’ atmosphere without emphasizing industrialization’s depressing aspects.
The different photographic techniques and the development of the camera also influenced Atkinson, the artist. Sometimes he used a camera obscura to project scenes onto canvas, and other times he painted directly onto photographs.
Some of John Atkinson Grimshaw’s Paintings
- Under the influence of Tissot, Grimshaw painted many interior scenes in the 1870s and 1880s. “Dulce Domum” (1885) was created in this period, and Tissot’s and the Aesthetic movement’s influences are clearly seen in this painting. The painting captures the music portrayed by the piano player. It entices the viewer to look at the richly decorated room and then concentrate on the still and silent young lady listening to the music.
- The influence of Ruskin’s creed of “truth to nature” can be seen in Grimshaw’s “A Moonlit Lane with two Lovers by a Gate.” Grimshaw used a vertical canvas to emphasize the trees, which create interesting visual patterns with their many branches. The trees invite you to look at the landscape. Interestingly, this artwork is different from most of his other landscape paintings. It has more of a “story” than his other paintings. Two lovers are included in the picture, leaving the viewer to imagine the “story.”
- His painting “Moonlight after Rain” depicts a typical scene of Grimshaw’s work. It is also a painting influenced by the Aesthetic movement. Grimshaw successfully blended aesthetic ideas with Ruskin’s philosophies to create a beautiful urban landscape without including any depressing aspects of industrialization.
- “Autumn Gold” was painted in the 1880s. The painting was done with photographic precision and is, to a certain extent, showcasing his love for photography. Nevertheless, he succeeded in also conveying a robust atmospheric message by using the yellow color that varies from a warm golden to a greenish shade.
By studying Grimshaw’s paintings, it becomes clear that his primary influence was the Pre-Raphaelites. He created landscapes of accurate color and lighting with vivid detail and realism in the typical Pre-Raphaelite style. The influence of Aestheticism is also seen in his accurate depiction of cities’ wet streets and misty watersides without emphasizing the depressing aspects of industrialization.