In 1870 Glasgow was producing more than half of Britain's shipping tonnage and a quarter of all locomotives worldwide. By the end of the nineteenth century it had become known as the "Second City of the Empire", its shipping industry supporting and linking Britain's vast areas of jurisdiction throughout the globe. This time of growth and prosperity led to the building of Loch Katrine, opened by Queen Victoria in 1859 to supply the city with water, and later the subway, opened in 1896. An ambitious rejuvenation plan was also underway including the building of an impressive City Chambers by William Young and Glasgow University's main buildings by the great Sir George Gilbert Scott (St Pancras Station).
A new generation of wealthy industrialists, possessed of great civic pride, provided Grimshaw with a plethora of clients. Agnew's archives reveal the artist's work recurring frequently in their stockbooks of the period, probably selling through their galleries in Manchester and Liverpool or through their considerable connections in Glasgow.
Called upon to honour a loan he had guaranteed for an untrustworthy friend towards the end of the 1870s, Grimshaw's house in Scarborough was sold and the servants dismissed. Grimshaw returned to Knostrop Hall, later hiring a studio in London which he used until 1887. This sudden downturn in his finances led to a dramatic increase in the artist's production and coincides with the first moonlit urban and dockside scenes. Men made wealthy by trade were keen to own his lively scenes of city life depicting the ports that were the lifelines of an empire in its heyday.
Glasgow, Saturday Night is identified by an inscription on the reverse of the original canvas, now obscured. The great city of Glasgow is seen here lit by the moonlight that is characteristic of Grimshaw's work. The streets shine in the lamplight and reflect the warm golden rays from the shop windows. On the right the dockside is lit by the murkier light of the moon, obscured by a cloudy haze. Only clearly visible are the tall masts of the ships with their intricate rigging creating dark patterns against the evening sky. The warm lights of the tavern are a stark contrast to the pale light illuminating the dock. Shoppers peer into the windows at the brightly coloured bottles in the window of the druggist's store and we can see a small child urging her reluctant mother from the muddy cobbles towards the pavement and inviting shop front. People travelling home after their day's work sit atop the omnibus; grouped by the dock shadowy figures continue with their labours.
Grimshaw deliberately avoids making obvious social commentaries in his work. They are a truthful snapshot of contemporary life, albeit with a few architectural liberties for picturesque effect. Using moonlight and the warmth of the gas lamps to illuminate this scene of everyday life Grimshaw transforms the familiar; the half light giving the working dockside and its figures a fascinating mystery and ambiguity that is delightfully intriguing.