Friday, June 3, 2011

John Atkinson Grimshaw - An Autumn Lane

signed and dated l.r.: Atkinson Grimshaw 1886+
oil on canvas
76 by 64cm., 30 by 25in

Throughout the 1870s and 1880s, John Atkinson Grimshaw painted a series of views of deserted suburban streets in London and Yorkshire. These images of a solitary female figure, making her way down a leaf and puddle strewn road, are perhaps 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, leaving the streets deserted. The horses and carts, which have left their impressions in the damp soil of the road, have long since departed and the gateways have been closed to the outside world. There is an emotive sense of stillness and calm which pervades these golden images of evening light.

An Autumn Lane depicts the same view with the same house, but lit by the glow of the dawn, rather than the moonlit sky. The view has not been identified and it has been suggested that it is 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 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), An Autumn Lane and related pictures. These 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...'

In 1885 Grimshaw had temporarily entered London society, moving firstly into a hotel on The Strand and later to a studio on Manresa Road in Chelsea. It is possible that it was in Chelsea that he painted An Autumn Lane and it is tempting to speculate that the scene is at least partly based on one of the streets of Chelsea or Battersea, which were lined with mansions surrounded by high walls and with rows of looming birch and plane trees. However, the house itself was almost certainly based upon the artist's studies made earlier in the 1880s in Yorkshire. Around the
time this picture was painted, Grimshaw was a good friend of the other great Victorian painter of noctures, James Abbot McNeill Whistler, who lived a short walk across Chelsea Bridge. Whistler greatly admired Grimshaw's moonlit scenes and there was a genuine admiration between the two artists.

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 malachite, gold 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 verdegris night sky is replaced by a wonderfully luminous morning glow. An Autumn Lane is one of Grimshaw's most important canvases of the series.

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