Lot 5
  • 5

John Atkinson Grimshaw 1836-1893

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
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  • John Atkinson Grimshaw
  • whitby
  • signed l.r.: Atkinson Grimshaw.; inscribed and further signed on the reverse: Whitby/ Atkinson Grimshaw
  • oil on canvas


STRUCTURE: Unlined. SURFACE: Some tiny paint losses appear in the top left corner where the frame has rubbed against the canvas. Otherwise the paint surface is in good original condition. Slightly dirty and may benefit from cleaning. UV LIGHT: Under UV light restoration appears around the signature in the bottom right corner. Minor retouchings appear in three areas on the quay in the foreground. One small area of retouching appears on the first window on the far left, close to the sail of the boat. FRAME: Contained in a gilt and silver painted modern frame with leaf motifs in the corners. COLOUR COMPARISON: The original painting is not as yellow as the catalogue illustration suggests.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

In the late 1860s Grimshaw became increasingly interested in painting ships and the sea. On the one hand he focused on the great ports of London, Glasgow, Liverpool and Hull and on the other, he captured the more intimate harbours of the east coast of Yorkshire. In 1867 Grimshaw painted one of the first of his moonlit harbour scenes, Whitby Harbour by Moonlight (private collection) and from the end of the 1860s, the fishing town was to become a frequently recurring subject.

Despite rarely exhibiting these views, Grimshaw's paintings of Whitby were immediately popular with collectors and quickly snapped up directly from the artist's studio. It was the mechanism of the port and the role in the life of the city which fascinated Grimshaw and explains why in all his paintings he always includes various signs of activity, such as the people walking along the wet streets silhouetted against the glow of the shop windows in the foreground of the present picture. The lights of the sailing-boats reflecting in the still waters of the dock and the nets hung up to dry, further suggest signs of industry. 

Grimshaw's depiction of the port is full of painstaking detail and he  celebrated its industrial role as one of the most active fishing ports of northern Britain. Rather than concentrating on the smoke and dirt of a busy port he chose a moonlit view and presented a beautifully detailed image. Pictures such as this appealed directly to the Victorian public's pride in their industrial achievements and explains Grimshaw's immense success as an artist.

The contrast of shadows, brilliant gas-light and soft moonlight in the present picture is typical of Grimshaw's oeuvre during the second half of his career. The artificial brightness of the light together with the blackness of the boats and the nets in the foreground recall characteristics of collotype photography that developed in the late 18th century and which Grimshaw, as an artist, would have undoubtedly been aware of. Like James Tissot he was also fascinated by the intricacies of ship rigging and as the masts and ropes of the ship exemplify he devoted great attention to these specific details.   

'The 1870s were the period of Grimshaw's greatest success, with an increasingly popular local reputation, soon to spread to London...' (Alex Robertson, Atkinson Grimshaw, 1988, p. 35) In 1874 one of his pictures was accepted by the Hanging Committee of the Royal Academy for inclusion in the Summer Exhibition and regular sales of his paintings made him financially more stable than he had been previously. From 1876 he was able to rent a second home at Scarborough, named Castle-by-the-Sea after a poem by Henry Longfellow. It was on this rugged Yorkshire coast that he painted some of his most atmospheric nocturnes including the dramatic The Burning of the Spa Saloon (Scarborough Art Gallery) an event he had witnessed in 1876 and In Peril of 1979 (Leeds City Art Galleries) to the more tranquil Whitby from Scotch Head of 1878 (Richard Green Gallery) and The Lighthouse at Scarborough of 1877 (private collection). The similarity between Grimshaw's atmospheric views of the harbour at Whitby and those by the contemporary photographer Frank Meadow Sutcliffe, has often been noted. Grimshaw and Sutcliffe are not known to have been acquainted and it is more likely that the photographer was influenced by the painter rather than visa versa.