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.
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