John Atkinson Grimshaw

John Atkinson Grimshaw
06.09.1836 (Leeds, England) - 13.10.1893 (Leeds, England)

Nationality: English


John Atkinson Grimshaw is a Victorian-era painter who is known for his vivid and luminous moonlit cityscapes, often depicting the docks in London, Leeds, Liverpool and Glasgow. He was born in Leeds on September 6, 1836. Initially working as a clerk for the Great Northern Railway, Grimshaw focused on an artistic career from the age of 24, in 1861. Self-taught, he began by painting exquisitely detailed still lifes with birds, blossoms and fruits, which he exhibited in Leeds in the 1860s. Later Grimshaw painted mainly landscapes that typified seasons or a type of weather, city, and suburban street scenes. For a while he experimented with a looser technique and with classical and historical subjects in the manner of Lawrence Alma-Tadema, but his real breakthrough was the night-time scenes, or "moonlights," with which he is associated today. In the 1870s Grimshaw was already a successful painter. He was able to afford a second house by the sea at Scarborough, which he called his "Castle by the Sea." His move to the coast inspired him in much of his work. Throughout his life, maritime subjects like ships, the sea and docks always attracted Grimshaw. His style and subject matter changed little during his career; instead he strove constantly to perfect his own individual vision. He was interested in photography, and sometimes used a camera obscura to project outlines on to oil canvas, enabling him to repeat compositions several times. He also mixed sand and other ingredients with his paint to get the effects he desired. Intriguingly, despite not creating a school or major movement, Grimshaw's oil paintings were forged and imitated during his life. Although his moonlit town views are his most popular works, he also painted landscapes, portraits, interiors, fairy pictures, and neo-classical subjects.


Sadie Whitelocks, 'Hard times: The Victorian artist who mastered the night but was overshadowed by debt', Daily Mail Newspaper, Apr. 19, 2011


John Atkinson Grimshaw: Painter of Moonlight, The Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate, 16 Apr.-4 Sep. 2011


The following museums have work by John Atkinson Grimshaw in their collection: Tate Gallery, London, Ashmolean Museum at University of Oxford, Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston, Tyne & Wear Museums, City of Gloucester Museums, England and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid.

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Artist's locations

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Humber Docks, Hull

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