Sunday, July 25, 2010

John Atkinson Grimshaw - Scarborough

signed and dated l.r.: Atkinson Grimshaw/ 1882
oil on board
31 by 50cm., 12 by 20in.

ESTIMATE 60,000 - 70,000 GBP
Lot Sold. Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 111,650 GBP

'And when the evening mist clothes the riverside with poetry, as with a veil, and the poor buildings lose themselves in the dim sky, and the tall chimneys become campanili, and the warehouses are palaces in the night, and the whole city hangs in the heavens, and fairy land is before us - then the wayfarer hastens home; the working man and the cultured one, the wise man and the one of pleasure, cease to understand, as they have ceased to see, and Nature, who, for once has sung in tune, sings her exquisite song to the artist alone, her son and master - her son in
that he loves her, her master in that he knows her.' - James Abbott McNeill Whistler, from his Ten O'Clock Lecture, 1885.

John Atkinson Grimshaw knew Scarborough intimately having lived there from 1876, painting the town on numerous occasions and from a variety of perspectives. He rented a house from Thomas Jarvis, a local brewer who was Grimshaw's patron as well as his landlord. The house was named 'The Castle by the Sea' after the poem by
Henry Longfellow. Grimshaw's twins, Lancelot and Elaine were born during his time there but sadly the family had to give up the house due to financial difficulties in 1880. Scarborough provided an abundance of inspiration and Grimshaw painted some of his most successful compositions during this period including a rare documentary piece Sic Transit Gloria Mundi' The Burning of the Spa Saloon, Scarborough Scarborough Art Gallery).

The present work shows the old fishing town at dusk beneath a full-moon, with lamp-lights reflected in the calm waters of the sheltered harbour of South Bay. On the skyline can be discerned the shadowy form of the fourteenth century chapel of St. Mary, the parish church for Scarborough where Anne Bronte was buried in 1849.

Grimshaw's former home lay less than a few hundred yards behind the churchyard of St. Mary's but is not visible in the present picture as it was over the headland looking out across the South Bay. To the right of St. Mary's is the start of the
steep slope leading to the imposing ruin of Scarborough Castle built by William le Gros, Earl of Albemarle during the reign of Henry I. On the quayside a young woman looks out over the water towards the town while two fishermen haul ropes to secure their vessel against the quayside. Scarborough's economy was in transition during
the second decade of the nineteenth century. The opening of the Grand Hotel in 1867 paved the way for tourism but this new prosperity came at the expense of the traditional fishing industry and in the present work Grimshaw painted the workers and a woman watching them, perhaps a visitor to the town. As Alexander Robertson observes; 'Grimshaw combines these two kinds of activity, the watching and the working, in a composition which gives him an opportunity to portray different light effects, natural and man-made. Such paintings are the essence of Grimshaw,
who presents to the spectator a scene of calm observation where the subject is given a poetic overlay by the use of light, usually moonlight.'

Grimshaw painted several versions of this composition, under differing lighting and weather conditions, such as South Bay, Scarborough (sold in these rooms, 12 July 2007, lot 8) in which the sky is clear rather then veiled in the scattered cloud seen in the present painting which is closer to Lights in the Harbour of 1879 (Scarborough Art Gallery). The Whistlerian use of fog contrasts with the glimmering lights of the town, the majesty of the light given by the pale orb of the moon far exceeding the artificial light of the town. Grimshaw thus suggests the superiority and eternity of nature over man's endeavours.

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