In an exchange on Twitter the other day with the marvellous actor James A. Fleet (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Vicar of Dibley, and I believe made for the role of Frederick Dorrit in BBC’s ‘Little Dorrit’) about the marvellous painter John Atkinson Grimshaw I have been prompted to take another look at Grimshaw’s beautifully atmospheric works.
John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836 – 1893) was a Victorian painter known for his city scenes and landscapes. He was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite movement initially but soon found his own ‘voice’, painting mainly urban scenes at twilight, dawn, and at night. He also indulged in some fashionable fairy paintings but personally I don’t think they’re among his best works.
He was born 6 September 1836 in Leeds. In 1856 he married his cousin Frances Hubbard (1835-1917). In 1861, at the age of 24, to the dismay of his parents, he departed from his first job as a clerk for the Great Northern Railway to pursue a career in art.
Grimshaw's paintings were sold in two art galleries, smaller picture dealers and a couple of bookshops in Leeds. One of his main customers was Thomas Fenteman, who owned an antiquarian booksellers. Fenteman was a deeply religious man and would only buy the pictures after Grimshaw had confirmed that they had not been painted on a Sunday.
He began exhibiting in 1862, under the patronage of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, with paintings mainly of birds, fruit, and blossoms. Grimshaw became a popular artist in Leeds and in 1865 he was able to move with his wife to a more expensive part of the city. William Agnew, a London art dealer, began purchasing his work. Further success came when a picture by Grimshaw was accepted by the Royal Academy. By 1870 Grimshaw was in a position to buy Knostrop Old Hall, a large seventeenth-century manor house, two miles from Leeds. Fanny Grimshaw gave birth to fifteen children but only six reached adulthood.
Several of his children, Arthur Grimshaw (1864-1913), Louis H Grimshaw (1870-1944), Wilfred Grimshaw (1871-1937) and Elaine Grimshaw (1877-1970), also became painters.