John Atkinson Grimshaw painted a series of views of suburban streets in London and Yorkshire from the 1870s onwards and in the 1880s he painted some of his most beautiful pictures of this subject. The pictures of a solitary female figure, a maid dressed in a cap and shawl and carrying a basket of provisions or laundry, making her way down a leaf and puddle strewn road, are the most emotive and typical of the artist, who was unrivalled in his depiction of the evening gloaming and the dawning morn. Whether he was painting suburban roads, the docks at Whitby and Liverpool or the shopping streets of Leeds; busy and noisy places during the day, Grimshaw painted the silent solitary evening still, when the residents, dock-workers and shop assistants return home, or the first hours of the morning when only servants are awake and active. The horses and carts, have left their impressions in the damp soil of the road, suggesting that some deliveries have already been made but the gateways remain closed to the outside world. There is an emotive sense of stillness and calm which pervades these golden images of morning light.
Late October depicts an unidentified view and is probably an amalgam of views in North Yorkshire, rather than a specific identifiable location. As Alexander Robinson states, 'Just as myth and legend were to be plundered for subjects, so actual and historical houses could be put together to form an archetypical mansion'. However the same house appears in many pictures by the artist and it is likely that it did exist, probably in one of the suburbs of Leeds, where the artist often painted. The house, or a similar one, features prominently in A Yorkshire House of 1878 (Harrogate Museums and Art Gallery), A Golden Idyll (sold in these rooms, 12 December 1997, lot 181), Gold of Autumn (sold in these rooms, 6 November 1995, lot 199) and related pictures. This series of pictures recall the lines of Lord Alfred Tennyson's Enoch Arden;
'The small house,
The climbing street, the mill, the leafy lanes,
The peacock-yew tree and the lonely Hall...
The chill November dawns and dewy-glooming downs,
The gentle shower, the smell of the dying leaves...'
Although Grimshaw was inspired by the modernism of industrial dockyards and the lamplit city commercialism, he was also a great admirer of the crumbling heritage of England, with a deep love for Elizabethan and Jacobean architecture. Amongst the items which remained in his estate when he died, were a handful of his most precious books, including A History of Hardwick Hall of 1835. Grimshaw painted many street scenes in which beautiful ancient houses stand hauntingly silent, bathed in the golden dawn light and surrounded by birch trees stripped bare by the approaching winter.
Painted with a limited palette of gold, moss-green and russet, with a meticulous attention to detail, Grimshaw created an image which is powerfully romantic and yet wholly realistic. This picture is a radiant painting by Grimshaw in which his characteristic malachite sky is replaced by a wonderfully luminous autumnal glow of early morning as the sun rises over the horizon and the maid makes her way to work.
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