THE first major exhibition in more than 30 years devoted to Victorian artist John Atkinson Grimshaw, one of the most intriguing painters of his day, is taking place at the Mercer Art Gallery in Harrogate.
The exhibition, which brings together over 50 major works, is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see paintings by this celebrated self-taught artist, including many works not seen in public for decades and generously lent by private collectors.
Called Atkinson Grimshaw: Painter of Moonlight, the exhibition also marks the completion of major renovation work on the interior of the gallery.
The show aims to reveal more about the artist’s fascinating private life, uncovering new material about his family history. Curator Jane Sellars has had access to revealing new biographical material, including previously unseen early photographs of Grimshaw, of his wife and occasional model, Theodosia, and their young children.
Grimshaw defied his strictly religious parents to become an artist, and rapidly made a name for himself as a painter. He enjoyed considerable success in his career, and took his large brood to live in stately rented splendour at old Knostrop Hall in Leeds, with a spell of several years spent in similar style living in Scarborough.
As with all Victorian art, in the twentieth century Grimshaw’s paintings went completely out of favour, only to enjoy a remarkable renaissance that started about forty years ago and continues today to push him near the top of the ranks of most desired Victorian artists.
Now there is a whole new 21st century audience for Grimshaw’s evocative moonlit scenes.
Jane Sellars, curator of the show said: “The Grimshaw pictures in the Harrogate collection are the best-loved works that we have. Grimshaw’s life history has always been shrouded in a little mystery, but for this show we have had access to new biographical material which will cast new light on the artist’s story.’
For the greater part of his career, from the 1870s until the end of his life, Atkinson Grimshaw explored the effects of mist and moonlight and the dying light of an autumn afternoon, The Mercer Art Gallery’s Silver Moonlight, 1880, is a classic of its kind.
The exhibition charts Grimshaw’s career, from his early Pre-Raphaelite paintings of the 1860s, where the principal subject matter was the landscape, 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 on the beach, small symphonies in green and grey that link him forever with his friend and close contemporary, James Abbott McNeill Whistler.
To accompany the exhibition a new book Atkinson Grimshaw: Painter of Moonlight is being published by Harrogate Borough Council, supported by the Friends of the Mercer Art Gallery and the Mellon Center for British Art.
This includes essays from a wide range of experts looking at different aspects of the artist’s life and work, such as Alexander Robertson, leading Grimshaw expert, on the artist’s relationship with the new industrial cities of the late 19th century, and Edwina Ehrman, V&A curator, on fashion and textiles in Grimshaw’s paintings.
The exhibition has been made possible with the generous support of the Friends of the Mercer Art Gallery.
The exhibition runs until September 4 and then moves to the Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London,