Sunday, November 15, 2009

John Atkinson Grimshaw - October Gold

24 by 17 1/2 in
oil on canvas
Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 322,400 GBP
signed and dated l.l.: Atkinson Grimshaw/ 1885+
oil on canvas

Throughout the 1880s, John Atkinson Grimshaw painted a series of views of deserted suburban streets in autumn, predominantly painted in Yorkshire. In these images of roads and lanes between the high stone walls hiding mansions and villas from prying eyes, the scenes are deserted except for a solitary female figure or a cart and horse making their way down a leaf and puddle strewn road. These paintings are perhaps the most evocative and typical of the artist, who was unrivalled in his depiction of the evening gloaming. Whether he was painting suburban roads, the docks at Whitby and Liverpool or the shopping streets of Leeds; chaotic 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 busy traffic of horses and carts bringing goods into the city from the outlying farms have left their impressions in the damp soil of the road, but most have long since departed and the gateways have been closed to the outside world. Only one last farmer returns home with his cart having unloaded his produce in one of the markets or perhaps at the docks. There is an emotive sense of stillness and calm which pervades these golden images of evening light. Grimshaw was arguably the most evocative painter of moonlit and evening scenes in which calmness and silence pervades these moody images in which the real subject is not a specific locality, but the effects of the light upon a generic suburban street. Unlike the pictures of the great cities of Britain and the fishing villages that Grimshaw painted, there are no landmarks in October Gold to place the exact location and the picture is therefore a more abstract summary of glorious light and autumnal splendour. The sense of mystery evoked by the appearance of the lonely road is further enhanced by the anonymity of the scene with the exact location withheld. The Victorians had a huge appetite for such romantic intrigue and it was a prevalent theme in the novels, plays and poetry of the age. Grimshaw himself was inspired by the writings of Wordsworth, Browning, Shelley and in particular Tennyson. Alexander Robertson sums up thus; 'A few lines from Tennyson's 'Enoch Arden' seem to demonstrate this most succinctly:

'The climbing street, the mill, the leafy lanes,
The peacock-yewtree and the lonely Hall,
The horse he drove, the boat he sold, the chill
November dawns and dewy glooming downs,
The gentle shower, the smell of dying leaves'

October Gold dates from 1885 and demonstrates the sophistication of style to which the artist had attained by this date. The notion of conclusion and decay is paramount in this image, the end of the day when the sun sets, the end of the year as the trees are stripped of leaves and the end of the daily routine of the worker making his solitary way home beside his empty cart. However, as with most of Grimshaw's pictures of evening scenes, the mood is not pessimistic or melancholic. By flooding the scene with the diffused golden light, Grimshaw celebrates the beauty of the close of day.

In 1879 Grimshaw defaulted on a debt and the early 1880s was a time of financial hardship for the artist. However from an artistic perspective this was also a time of expansion and success when he painted many of his best works. October Gold was painted during this period of heightened artistic activity but during a more prosperous phase in Grimshaw's life. It is a display of the artist's extraordinary ability to depict atmosphere with the aureate evening skies, the leafless, autumnal trees and the rain soaked street acting in perfect harmony to create the sense of stillness and calm following a downpour. The light source from the fading sun in its last phase before night proceeds creates and demands an intricate and extensive pattern as its shimmers through bare branches and reflects upon the droplets of rainwater caught in pools of leaves upon the soaked road.


Enzie Shahmiri said...

Beautiful ~ it does give one a sense of autumn.

Hermes said...

Thank you. I love his pictures. This was actually an experiment. Modern catalogues spread pictures over more than one page making them very difficult to scan but I did manage to capture this from the online version.