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Whitby by John Grimshaw

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Whitby by John Grimshaw

- Item No.

The artist gives us an evening scene, illuminated and glistening like a jewel

Key Features

  • Painted by John Atkinson Grimshaw in 1883 this lovely work employs a remarkable viewpoint
  • This moody and ethereal night painting shows the seaside town of Whitby's first swing bridge
  • The artist's nocturne paintings exhibit innovative perspective and technical mastery
  • Grimshaw became famous for his illuminated nocturnal scenes of dockyards and urban lanes
  • Signed and dated
  • Circa, 1883
  • Canvas: 20 h x 30 w Framed: 30 ¼ h x 40 ¼ w

Item Details

  • Width:
    C: 30" F: 40" Inches
  • Height:
    C: 20" F: 30" Inches
  • Period:
    19th Century
  • Origin:
  • Subject:
  • Artist:
    Grimshaw, John Atkinson
John Atkinson Grimshaw
1836 - 1893  British


 Signed and dated 1883
Oil on canvas

This moody and ethereal night painting shows the seaside town of Whitby's first swing bridge with the gas-lit windows of commercial premises running along St Anne's Staith on the right. Painted by John Atkinson Grimshaw in 1883 this lovely work employs a remarkable viewpoint, emphasizing the elegant curve of the harbour following the river Esk. In several works from the 1860s onwards, Grimshaw lends this kind of innovative perspective to his nocturne paintings. With this example of technical mastery, the artist's development since his early work is noteworthy. The starkly lit, harsh lines of the harbour and railing, as well as the high viewpoint of his earlier works are gone.The lurid viridian sky has been tamed and his cloud studies perfected. Instead what we are offered is the most meticulously rendered evening scene, illuminated and glistening like a jewel.  Grimshaw's ability to lift his dark and what would ordinarily be melancholy nocturnal scenes into the realm of dreamy incandescent worlds is nothing short of fascinating and makes his works absolutely mesmerizing and highly desired by collectors.

Grimshaw draws us into this moody scene with the curving balustrade which leads the viewer's eye towards the bridge, draped with ropes instead of drying fishing nets. The shadowy silhouettes of boats and masts echo the horizontal and vertical elements of the composition.

Fishing became the principal maritime industry in Whitby following the slump in shipbuilding at the end of the Napoleonic War in 1815, as the harbour was too small to accommodate the larger ships then being built.  The railway brought tourism to Whitby, and like Scarborough it became a seaside resort, inspiring writers such as Elizabeth Gaskell, Lewis Caroll and, most famously, Bram Stoker.

Grimshaw became famous for his sombre views of the dockyards and his nocturnal scenes of urban lanes with leafless trees silhouetted against the moonlight sky.  During his later life, he became a close friend of James McNeill Whistler who admired his work and admitted: 'I considered myself the inventor of nocturnes until I saw Grimmy's moonlight picture.'

Born in Leeds, the son of an ex-policeman, Grimshaw began painting while he was employed as a clerk for the Great Northern Railway.  He married his cousin Frances Theodosia Hubbarde in 1858 and by 1861, he abandoned his job in order to devote all his time to becoming an artist.  In his early work, 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.  He 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.  He 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 his best known though he also painted  landscapes, portraits, interior scenes, fairy pictures and neo-classical subjects. Grimshaw painted mostly for private patrons.  He 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.  Several of his children became painters.

Circa, 1883

Canvas: 20" h x 30" w
Framed: 30 ¼ " h x 40 ¼ " w

Richard Green, London, 1995
Private collection, USA, 1995
Richard Green, London, 1999
Private collection, UK, 1999
Richard Green, London

Select Artist's Exhibitions:
London, Richard Green, Exhibition of Victorian & Romantic Paintings, 23rd November 1995, no. 26

Select Artist's Museums:
Tate Gallery, London
Scarborough Art Gallery
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Brest
Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford
Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis
Yale Center for British Art, New Haven
New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans
Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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Price: $1,285,000
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