Late Autumn on the Esk

by John Atkinson Grimshaw


This painting was a private commission for Lealholm Lodge Estate which overlooks Lealholm Quarry and is depicted here

DIMENSIONS: (unframed) 31 .25 x 46.5 inches (79.38 x 118.11 cm)
SIGNATURE: Signed (lower right)
MEDIUM: Oil on canvas


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    Catalogue No: 3121 Categories: ,

    This is a lovely, early Atkinson Grimshaw from the period in his career when Romanticism was meeting pre-Raphaelitism. Although JMW Turner and John William Inchbold’s work of this period had some influence over Grimshaw’s painting, Grimshaw himself was regarded by his contemporaries as a ground breaking artist in his own right.

    This is reflected in Whistler’s famous comment: “I thought I had invented the Nocturne until I saw Grimmy’s moonlights”
    (The Times Literary Supplement (London, England), Friday, June 09, 1989; pg. 640; Issue 4497)

    The painting shows the degree to which Atkinson Grimshaw’s communication of light and shade was central to his aim of depicting the sublime. The sheer enormity of the landscape and the sky have the effect of dwarfing the figure: a deliberate technique by the artist to remind the viewer that humanity only exists by the grace and favour of nature. The figure walks away from the viewer into the distance, to suggest an unknown beyond reach of all of us.

    It may be that Grimshaw is better known, nowadays, for his paintings of moonlit docks and of artificial light emanating from shops and houses in smoggy British industrialised towns. However, without the body of work from which ‘Late Autumn on the Esk’ was created, Grimshaw would not have been able to hone his skills and achieve such a sophisticated understanding as to how to evoke half-light and atmosphere in his compositions.

    This daytime piece would have been very contemporary for the period and appealing to the cultured upper classes of the time. This is somewhat ironic: the majority of Atkinson Grimshaw’s patrons had come into great wealth as a result of the industrial revolution. Yet, they chose to invest that wealth on images such as this, which seek to prove that industry is meaningless in the face of the power of nature.

    The palette of autumnal oranges and blue sky complement each other and were appreciated by artists of the Romantic movement. They evoke harmony in the mind of the viewer and, when combined with Grimshaw’s attention to detail, composition creates a quiet but stirring piece of work.

    Private Collection, United Kingdom

    Born in Leeds, the son of an ex-policeman, Grimshaw first took up painting while he was employed as a clerk for the Great Northern Railway. He married his cousin Frances Theodosia Hubbarde in 1858. By 1861, he had abandoned his job in order to devote all his time to becoming an artist. In his early work, John Atkinson Grimshaw was influenced by John Ruskin’s creed of ‘truth to nature’ and adopted the detailed Pre-Raphaelite technique of the Leeds painter, John William Inchbold. Grimshaw was also fascinated by the relatively new art of photography and may have used a camera obscura in developing his compositions. Towards 1865, he renounced this painting style. Grimshaw painted many urban scenes in which moonlight and shadows were the most striking features. The towns and docks that he painted most frequently were Glasgow, Liverpool, Leeds, Scarborough, Whitby and London. These works have become Grimshaw’s best known though he also painted landscapes, portraits, interior scenes, fairy pictures and neo-classical subjects. Grimshaw painted mostly for private patrons. He only exhibited five works at the Royal Academy between 1874 and 1876. By 1870, Grimshaw had become successful enough to move to Knostrop Old Hall, a seventeenth Century mansion about two miles from the centre of Leeds, which featured in many of his paintings. He rented another home near Scarborough which he called ‘The Castle by the Sea’, towards 1876. Grimshaw suffered a serious financial disaster in 1879 and had to leave his house at Scarborough. He moved to London and rented a studio in Chelsea, leaving his family at Knostrop. He returned to Knostrop, where he died in 1893.
    Grimshaw painted mostly for private patrons. He only exhibited five works at the Royal Academy between 1874 and 1876.

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