Atkinson Grimshaw Mercer Art Gallery,
to 4 Sept 2011
The Guardian has trouble shedding its prejudices about “Victorians” and “pre-Raphaelites”:
The Leeds-born Victorian painter of landscape and cityscape enchantments John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836–1893) really should not be appealing to our modern eye. Heavily, painstakingly influenced by the detail of the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, Grimshaw's focus reveals a near-hallucinatory clarity. Like almost all of his contemporaries (except Richard Dadd) he should have laid off the fairies, but when he concentrated on a nocturnal London Docks or gas-lit Leeds back street, he achieved a clarity of vision with his marbling of moonlight and shadow. His avoidance of realist social documentary may leave him open to accusations of escapist sentimentality, yet his common visions are almost transcendental. The effect endures more than a century later – Robert Clark.
Robert Clark must have written "Victorian.. heavy… painstaking… pre-Raphaelite… avoidance of realism… escapist sentimentality…" in his notebook before he went to Harrogate, only to have his mind blown by Grimshaw’s transcendental night pieces. They feature newly built department stores and mansion blocks, windows glowing with new-fangled gas or electricity, and the mundane figures of cab drivers, shop-girls and governesses in respectable tweeds making their way home. He was influenced as much by photography as by the pre-Raphaelites. Painter James McNeill Whistler claimed he recorded "the rain and mist, the puddles and smoky fog of late Victorian industrial England with great poetry." Grimshaw was brilliant - go.
The Guardian has a fuller account here.