5_Boar Lane Leeds by Lamplight by John_Atkinson_Grimshaw

Boar Lane, Leeds, by LamplightJohn Atkinson Grimshaw, 1881

John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893) was born in Leeds, and although he lived in London for a while as a painter, he stayed true to his Northern roots and returned there in later life. He began his working life as a clerk, but, to the consternation of his parents, left this job to be an artist. Happily he achieved considerable success and popularity.

He was greatly inspired by the Pre-Raphaelite style, painting scenes in vivid detail and with accurate colour and lighting. He was skilled at capturing seasons and types of weather, and is especially known for his moonlit views of city and suburban streets and of the docks in London, Leeds, Liverpool and Glasgow.

His “paintings of dampened gas-lit streets and misty waterfronts conveyed an eerie warmth as well as alienation in the urban scene” says Philip J. Waller in Town, City, and Nation, and there does seem to be a mix of sadness and loneliness alongside the beauty in many of his paintings.
In the 1880s, Grimshaw’s studio was near that of the artist James Abbott McNeil Whistler who was also fond of painting foggy urban scenes by moonlight. Where Whistler’s style was impressionistic, Grimshaw’s was photographically realistic, recording “the rain and mist, the puddles and smoky fog of late Victorian industrial England with great poetry” (Lionel Lambourne, Victorian Painting). After visiting Grimshaw, Whistler remarked that “I considered myself the inventor of Nocturnes until I saw Grimmy’s moonlit pictures”. To see one of Whistler’s so-called Nocturnes (atmospheric studies of cities), click here.


John Atkinson Grimshaw [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wrap Up Your Painting

  • What caught your eye immediately about the painting?
  • How did you describe the character of the built environment to yourself?
  • How did the air smell, in your imagination?
  • Did you think the person you focused on was affluent or not? How could you tell?
  • In what way, if any, did this guided noticing activity add to your original impressions of the painting?
  • How do you feel now you’ve completed this activity? If you enjoyed it, why not add more Look at Paintings audio guides to your week? And don’t forget, you can take these guides with you to your local gallery and try them whilst standing in front of ‘real life’ art