Lot 60
  • 60

John Atkinson Grimshaw

150,000 - 250,000 USD
200,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • John Atkinson Grimshaw
  • Southwark Bridge from Blackfriars by Moonlight
  • signed Atkinson Grimshaw and dated 1881+ (lower left)
  • oil on canvas
  • 20 by 36 in.
  • 50.8 by 91.4 cm


Private Collection, United Kingdom (from circa 1946)
Private Collection, United Kingdom (acquired from the above, 1986)
Thence by descent

Catalogue Note

Atkinson Grimshaw turned his attention to London subjects in 1880, after a financial crisis had caused him to retreat from his Scarborough "Castle by the Sea" back to Leeds. He made several painting trips to London in the early 1880s, finally renting a space in Trafalgar Studios, Manresa Road, Chelsea in 1885. London nocturnes provided a fresh challenge for him, while residence in the bustling, booming capital placed his work before a larger clientele. It also allowed Grimshaw to mix in a heady atmosphere of creativity: he became friendly with James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who famously celebrated his nocturnes, while Oscar Wilde would drop into Trafalgar Studios from his house on nearby Tite Street.

This painting of 1881 depicts Southwark Bridge from the warehouses around Blackfriars, mysterious under a haloed moon. Grimshaw’s genius lies in evoking the pulsating iridescence of the full moon and the myriad colors observable even in darkness. Competing with the moon are the gas lamps on the bridge, burning strokes of gold. A moored barge looms up in the foreground. This is workaday London, the London of rats and wharves and river traffic, made peaceful and beautiful by a veil of night and mist. The fascination with the teeming, crepuscular Thames lay deep in a populace which devoured the works of Charles Dickens, with its river-scavengers such as Gaffer Hexam of Our Mutual Friend (1865).  

The austere beauty of Southwark Bridge, designed by John Rennie and built 1814-19, is the focus of the painting. Beyond, on the southern side, is the massive tower of the church of St Saviour and St Mary Overie, today Southwark Cathedral. Southwark, which never had the benefit of Christopher Wren’s post-Great Fire rebuilding, had remained for centuries a warren of trade and industry, location of the shot towers and rope-works which served Britain’s military and maritime might. It was also, however, home of Shakespeare’s Globe and the other theaters which by the nineteenth century had become a symbol of the country’s most important contributions to world culture. Beyond the warehouses which line the river, the romance of Southwark is implicit in Grimshaw’s nocturne.