Lot 31
  • 31

John Atkinson Grimshaw

120,000 - 180,000 GBP
125,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • John Atkinson Grimshaw
  • An Autumnal Scene at Dusk near Leeds
  • signed and dated l.r.: Atkinson Grimshaw/ 1883+
  • oil on board


Sotheby’s, London, 6 November 1968, lot 181;
Private collection 

Catalogue Note

This painting is typical of Grimshaw’s oeuvre in the 1880s, when he painted many suburban scenes around Leeds veiled in autumnal light. Like his paintings of docks and city centres, the pictures are an examination of atmospheric light effects across a landscape. In the early 1880s after a friend requisitioned a debt from him in 1879, Grimshaw faced financial difficulties. With a large family to care for, Grimshaw increased his creative output to around fifty paintings a year. These paintings of quiet lanes are each a unique aggregation of components of suburban Leeds: the Elizabethan and Jacobean houses, the curve of the road, and the gates in the high-stoned wall, each painting with a remarkably individual sunset or sunrise.

An Autumnal Scene at Dusk near Leeds depicts a quiet suburban lane, steeped with the faint mist and fleeting light of a November evening. The leaves have fallen from the trees and lie on the road where the thoroughfare of carriages has gradually flattened them. A maid walks along the pavement, perhaps coming home from work; like many of these paintings, she is the lone figure in an otherwise deserted landscape. Moss blankets the stone walls separating the Jacobean house from the road; the iridescence of the moss perhaps rendered in viridian, a new pigment at the start of Grimshaw’s career in the 1860s. The tell-tale blue tinge allows it almost to glow in the soft yellow dusk light.

Grimshaw had an exquisitely nuanced knowledge of light effects: dawn and dusk light permeated through clouds, fog and smog, over water, reflected on wet pavement, or even gas lighting reflected in murky puddles on the streets of Glasgow. His daughter Elaine remembered: “My father was fascinated by colour-iridescence. He would study the prismatic range in the bevelled mirrors of candelabra; and if we two children found in the big garden a bit of old glass, oxidised by age and weather, we would proudly take it to him, to add to his collection in a box which lay open a table beside easel.” (Elaine Grimshaw quoted in Jane Sellars, Atkinson Grimshaw – Painter of Moonlight, p.64) His subtle depiction of light and weather conditions conjures an atmosphere and mood making his work romantic in tone. In this painting, the dusk is calm and still, nothing to be heard except for the gentle tap of the maid’s feet on the damp pavement, the smell of fallen leaves heavy in the air. His depiction of autumn dusk is so complete and absorbing, that almost 150 years later, we still look at this scene with nostalgia for crisp November evenings.

As with his scenes of Leeds, London, Glasgow and Newcastle, where light falls on smoggy cityscapes, An Autumnal Scene at Dusk near Leeds hints at contemporary industry but is submerged in romantic nostalgia. The Victorians revelled in romantic mystery and intrigue; Grimshaw himself was particularly inspired by the romantic works of Shelley, Tennyson, Wordsworth and Browning. Rather unusually for the romantic undertones of the scene, the subject matter is contemporary. Indeed, Grimshaw is known for shrouding industrial and modern subject matter in romantic atmosphere, through an exposition of exquisite light effects.