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John AtkinsonGrimshaw was one ofthe mostsuccessful artists of his day. As with allVictorian art, in the 20th century hispaintings went out of favour - althoughGrimshaw himself did not live longenough either to see his style of paintingplummet in popularity, or to suffer theignominy of having his work sell forgrudgingly low prices. His paintingsGRIMSHAW24NADFAS REVIEW / WINTER enjoy a remarkablerenaissance that started 40 years agoand that continues to push Grimshawinto the top of the ranks of most desiredVictorian artists. A number of Grimshawexhibitions were held in the 1960s and1970s, but it is 30 years since the lastexhibition of his work, curated byAlexander Robertson for Leeds City ArtGallery, Southampton, and Liverpool'sWalker Art Gallery, took place. Since thattime, a whole new audience hasClockwise fromtop:NightfallDown theThames, 1880;On the Tees,Barnard Castle,1868; In Peril,1879; The Towerof Londondrawingemerged for Grimshaw's evocativemoonlit scenes.Grimshaw was a self-taught artist whoworked in the north of England in thesecond half of the 19th century. Hedefied his strictly religious parents andleft a good job with the railway tobecome an artist, and rapidly made aname for himself as a painter; first forPre-Raphaelite-style landscapes, andthen for his interpretation of the Victoriancity and the new urban experience of itsinhabitants. Grimshaw enjoyedconsiderable success in his career, andtook his brood of children to live in somesplendour at Knostrop Hall, a large oldrented house in Leeds, with a spell ofseveral years spent in similar style livingin Scarborough. He worked prolificallyand gathered around him a group ofdedicated patrons and collectors.Grimshaw was constantly on the lookoutfor ways of making money in order tosupport his large family. He was notafraid to experiment, making theatricalfairy paintings and allegorical portraits ofImages: © Leeds City Art Gallery REVIEW / WINTER201025GRIMSHAWfashionable women, who could as easilyhave stepped out of a painting by theFrench artist, Jean-Jacques Tissot. The exhibition brings together over 50major paintings from both private andpublic collections, including Leeds ArtGallery, which possesses the biggestcollection of the artist's work in publicownership and has lent generously; TateBritain; Cartwright Hall, Bradford;Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead; andgalleries in Scarborough, Halifax,Harrogate, Hull, Preston and Wakefield. Grimshaw's sketchbook andphotograph album tell us about hisresearch techniques. Works from privatecollections include paintings that haddisappeared from view for many years,now re-located and very kindly lent bytheir owners. The exhibition alsoincludes paintings and drawings byGrimshaw's artistically talented sons anddaughter. Newly discovered familyphotographs, lent by descendants andprivate and public owners, reveal theprivate side of the artist's life: histenderness towards his children, his loveof nature and his sense of fun.In his early career in the 1860s,Grimshaw's principal subject matter wasthe landscape, which he homed in onwith a Pre-Raphaelite eye for detail. TheLake District was a favourite earlysource of inspiration, producing suchearly masterpieces as Blea Tarn, FirstLight, 1865 (private collection), and TheBowder Stone, Borrowdale, c.1865,now in the Tate Gallery. Yorkshire, inparticular the beauties of Wharfedale,was omnipresent in his work, fromclassically picturesque subjects such asBolton Abbey to the public parks andwoods around the city of Leeds.One of the most compelling aspectsof Grimshaw's painting is his ability toevoke a particular atmosphere, often ofmelancholy. He painted many pictureswhere the main subject is an oldbuilding surrounded by trees. There isnot a figure in sight, yet there is apalpable presence in the painting.Autumn Glory: the Old Mill Cheshire,1869 (Leeds City Art Gallery) is one ofthese paintings, and one of Grimshaw'sbest-known masterpieces. The old millin the painting has since been identifiedas a specific location, but in many casesGrimshaw's settings are inventions. Forthe greater part of his career, from the1870s until the end of his life, Grimshawexplored the effects of mist andmoonlight and the dying light of anautumn afternoon. The Mercer ArtGallery's Silver Moonlight, 1880, is aclassic of its kind: the solitary figure of agirl walks in the moonlight down a wide,walled, lane towards an imposing-looking house, a few windows glowing