Through the meandering composition of the mountain-pass, the boulder-strewn river-bed and the converging slopes of the mountainsides, Grimshaw introduced the arc of a rainbow creating a contrast in colour and also unifying the composition. It is not simply a picturesque detail in the picture, or merely a reflection of Grimshaw’s interest in fleeting meteorological lighting effects. It is a symbol of Heavenly power, of the Lord’s presence on earth, intended 'to act as metaphor for God's pact with humanity' (A. Robertson, Atkinson Grimshaw, 1996, p.41). The geologically-studied landscape may have a deeper religious symbolism as the science of geology was a controversial subject in the mid-nineteenth century when it was used to try to both prove and disprove the existence of God. Grimshaw and his family had recently converted to Roman Catholicism and therefore the rainbow is symbolic of his new-found spirituality and his assertion of religious belief. The stony path winding towards the rainbow and the distance beyond may also have had a religious meaning to Grimshaw and the mountainous setting recalls imagery of the story of Moses’ ascent of Mount Sinai for his covenant with God.
A Mountain Road, Flood Time was almost certainly painted in 1868, the same year that Grimshaw painted The Seal of the Covenant (Fig.1) (Leeds City Art Galleries) and its pair Ingleborough from under White Scar (Bradford Museum and Galleries). The former picture also includes the rainbow over a stony landscape and makes the religious connection more apparent with its title. It is difficult to place the exact location of A Mountain Road, Flood Time but it is possible that it depicts the opposite riverbank to The Seal of the Covenant, as some of the rock formations on the right side are similar.
Grimshaw is known to have made a painting expedition to the Lakes with his wife in 1868. A painting entitled The Artist Painting in the Lake District (Fig.2) (Sotheby’s, Belgravia, 20 June 1972, lot 92) almost certainly records the 1868 trip, showing Theodosia Grimshaw looking over the shoulder of her husband as he busily paints the vast landscape in front of him. This sketching trip also produced the watercolour The Vale of Newlands, Cumberland (private collection) and the fact that A Mountain Road, Flood Time is inscribed ‘Honister Series No 3’ suggests that to some extent it was conceived as part of a series of experimentations in capturing the ethereal nature of the area.
We can be certain that Grimshaw visited the Lake District as early as 1863 from the dating of Windermere (private collection), a beautiful picture with a remarkably detailed foreground of wild flowers and bracken. Other Lake District scenes dated 1864 and 1865 suggest return visits in those years, although it is likely that Grimshaw used photographs at this time to aid his paintings and may have used them to inform these pictures. A photograph album that once belonged to Grimshaw (now at Leeds City Art Gallery), contains images of Rydal Water, Windermere, Stickle Tarn, Borrowdale and Ambleside. These photographs certainly provided Grimshaw with the basis for at least two strikingly detailed Pre-Raphaelite paintings, Nab Scar, The Lake District of 1864 (collection of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber) and Blea Tarn, First Light, Langdale Pikes in the Distance of 1865 (private collection).
A Mountain Road, Flood Time is painted in thin glazes of oil paint on paper, the liquidity of the medium allowing the artist to flood areas of the picture with transparent colour to create mottled textures - particularly effective in the depiction of the lichen-covered rocks. The choice of waterproof oil paint suggests that this picture may have been made out of doors within the landscape rather than in the studio from sketches or photographs. The discomfort and inconvenience of painting amid changing weather conditions was outweighed by the artist’s ability to capture a more spontaneous and truthful image of nature.
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