Influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites, John Atkinson Grimshaw was a Victorian era painter from Leeds who valued detail, intense color, and complex compositions. Grimshaw married his cousin Frances Theodosia Hubbarde, a relation of the landscape artist T.S. Cooper, in 1858. Soon after, he took a job as a clerk at the Great Northern Railway, but by 1861, to his parents’ dismay, Grimshaw left his job to pursue his passion for painting. With no formal training, he honed his talent by depicting carefully detailed still lifes which he exhibited with the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society. Grimshaw realized great success in the 1870s, at which time he purchased a second home in Scarborough. This seaside location became a source of inspiration and a common subject of his paintings.
The new art of photography no doubt influenced Grimshaw’s inclination toward realism, and it is often speculated that he used a camera obscura to aid in his compositions. Urban scenes, particularly of harbors, docks, and city streets of Glasgow, London, and Liverpool, began to dominate his work, though he also painted interiors, landscapes, fairies, and portraits, among other subjects. His skill at evoking light through seascapes at sunset or moonlit streets lent a powerful quality to his works. Even his contemporary James Abbott McNeill Whistler, master of tonal seascapes, praised Grimshaw’s works, remarking that “I considered myself the inventor of Nocturnes until I saw Grimmy’s moonlit pictures.” Grimshaw’s careful attention to detail and intricate visual descriptions glow with intensity and capture the mood of the scene. His realistic renderings are nearly poetic in their beauty.
Little else is known about the life of Grimshaw, who eventually dropped the “John” and signed his works “Atkinson Grimshaw.” Painting for mostly private patrons, he only exhibited five artworks at the Royal Academy and one at the Grosvenor Gallery. Grimshaw died in October of 1893, but his legacy lives on through his beloved landscapes and in important collections around the world.