October Gold is an iconic composition that showcases Grimshaw’s mastery of light and atmosphere. Unlike the artist’s works that depict the great cities and the fishing villages of Britain (such as Liverpool Quay by Moonlight, 1887, Tate, London; or Reflections on the Thames, Westminster, 1880, Leeds Museums and Galleries), there are no landmarks with which to situate the exact location of this place. The sense of mystery is enhanced by the atmospheric golden light flooding the scene, and the anonymous figure and cart who inhabits it. The Victorian audience had a strong appetite for such romantic intrigue and it was a prevalent theme in the novels, plays and poetry of the period. Grimshaw himself was inspired by the writings of William Wordsworth, Robert Browning, Percy Bysshe Shelley and in particular Alfred, Lord Tennyson. As Alexander Robertson points out, “a few lines from Tennyson’s Enoch Arden seem to demonstrate this most succinctly:
The climbing Street, the mill, the leafy lanes,
The peacock-yew tree and the lonely Hall,
The horse he drove, the boat he sold, the chill
November dawns and dewy glooming downs,
The gentle shower, the smell of drying leaves
(as quoted in Alexander Robertson, Atkinson Grimshaw, London, 1988, p. 86)
In his paintings, Grimshaw sought to contrast the manmade and the organic – opposing forces symbolic of an age of industrialization. In Grimshaw’s time, the natural world was being tamed, confined, and destroyed like never before. In October Gold, as in many of Grimshaw’s most compelling compositions, the notion of conclusion and decay is paramount, the end of the day when the sun sets, the end of the year as the trees are stripped of the leaves, and the end of the daily routine.
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