Monday, September 20, 2010

John Atkinson Grimshaw - Liverpool Docks

Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 361,250 GBP

61 by 91cm., 24 by 36in.

signed l.r.: Atkinson Grimshaw/ +

oil on canvas

The cities of northern Britain were greatly inspiring to the Victorian painter of moonlight, John Atkinson Grimshaw whose views of Glasgow, Hull, Leeds, Scarborough and Liverpool capture the spirit of the glory days of industrialisation. No city held him in thrall for longer than Liverpool and it was widely recognised by his contemporaries that the paintings were not merely topographical or architectural, but also glorified the subjects - creating majestic images from rather bleak realities.

'The work of Atkinson Grimshaw is valuable and unique in several respects. He made a great popular success out of that amalgam of Pre-Raphaelite sentiment, nature and industry that dominated the culture of northern England in the later nineteenth century. His work is our only visual equivalent to the great epics of industrial change, the novels of Gaskell and Dickens.' (David Bromfield, Atkinson Grimshaw 1836-1893, exhibition catalogue, 1979-1980, p. 5) Grimshaw began to expand the scope of his subjects in the early 1880s, beginning a series of paintings of urban street scenes and docks set in the evening light for which he is best known. His growing popularity, particularly with art collectors in the northern urban centres, encouraged him to paint industrial views of ports and harbours. Bromfield has interpreted Grimshaw's port scenes as 'icons of commerce and the city. They are remarkable in that they record the contemporary port's role within Victorian life; they appealed directly to Victorian pride and energy. They also show that same darkness, a mysterious lack of complete experience of the subject which one associates with large cities and big business, which Dickens recounts so well in Bleak House and Great Expectations and for which Grimshaw's moonlight became a perfect metaphor.' (ibid Bromfield, p. 15)

The present picture depicts the coexisting worlds of commerce and industry and in Grimshaw's composition it is possible to draw a physical line directly between the two, the amber glow of the shop-fronts on one side and the warehouses and ships of mercantile industry on the other. The masts of the ships are silhouetted against the sky and flanking the dock are two of the warehouses into which the open cars of the trains could be shunted and the goods loaded for distribution.

It has been raining and as night draws in the lamplight glimmers in the reflections of the puddles on the road and is diffused by the water which hangs in the misty air. A young woman and her child hurry across the wet road, her skirts lifted to prevent her muddying her hem. Night is drawing in and the road is busy with horse-drawn omnibusses, their upper decks crowded with passengers. On the pavement a young man stops to talk to an organ-grinder whilst a fashionable 'swell' in a top-hat is stopped by a street pedlar. The glow from a shop-front illuminates a frame-maker and print dealer's window arrayed with pictures, whilst on the opposite corner bottles are displayed in a vintner's window.

In 1885 Grimshaw exhibited a view of Salthouse Docks in Liverpool at the Royal Academy which the Art Journal reviewed favourably, stating that Grimshaw 'invests the subject with something akin to poetry.' Grimshaw's dock scenes were in such demand that one collector in Liverpool named Jackson told the artist that he would buy as many pictures as could be painted. Views of Liverpool were also popular with American collectors who bought them as memories of the Transatlantic voyages that took them from these docks.

A view of Liverpool Custom House and Wapping sold in these rooms for £612,000 (14 December 2006, lot 105).


MrsFitz said...

I am interested in your comments on the Salthouse Dock. This painting belonged to my family until 1953 when it was gifted by my grandmother to her home city. We have paperwork of the gifting and understand that its whereabouts could not be located in 2005. Recent media revelations regarding its sale in October/November 2010 have made me curious as to its whereabouts between it being gifted and its purchase by the current sellers. Any information about this short period would be appreciated in solving a family mystery.

Hermes said...

Sorry I just picked up on the auction details.

Anonymous said...

i have a print of liverpool dock seen by john atkinson grimshaw just want 2 no if it is worth anything.

Hermes said...


depends on how old, size and condition. Probably under a £100.