The composition of Atkinson Grimshaw's The Lovers defies the expectations the painting's title creates. Instead of the portrait of new people in love one might expect, Grimshaw paints a landscape evocative of the feeling of furtive love.
Grimshaw continues in this work with the dark, moonlit scenes typical of the majority of his paintings (Casteras, p. 42). Grimshaw paints most of the objects in the painting, including the trees and the faraway figures of the loves themselves, in silhouette, lighting only one tree and a stretch of road (Grimshaw paints these objects in muted browns and green-grays). Though this light's source remains mysterious (a technique Casteras also notes in other Grimshaw cityscapes), the light itself plays a major role in the painting. It throws the shadows of the gate and wall onto the road where they radiate outward. These shadows both seem to entrap the lovers in their meeting place at the edge of the road and emphasize the length of the road, or, in other words, create distance between the viewer and the lovers.
Grimshaw's choice to paint the lovers far-away and in darkness, as well as to position them off-center in his painting creates a mood of secrecy and of an intimacy shared only between them. The depiction of Grimshaw's subject matter thus benefits greatly from his expertise in painting night scenes.
1. As Casteras points out, "By the 70s [Grimshaw] had confined himself almost totally to these moonlight or twilight effects, exchanging his previous Pre-Raphaelite palette for a more muted one." Compare The Lovers to night scenes in Pre-Raphaelite style, such as Holman Hunt's The Triumph of the Innocents. What aspects of each scene do these differing techniques bring to the fore?
2. As noted earlier, many of Grimshaw's paintings focus on city- or landscapes at night. Does the title of this painting change the mood it evokes or the focus of the composition from that of his other cityscapes? Should this be considered more of a landscape or a type of subject painting?
3. What effect does the unknown and unnatural light source in The Lovers produce? Does it add to an overall narrative or simply provide necessary light in the painting?
Casteras, Susan. The Edmund J. and Suzanne McCormick Collection.New Haven: Yale Center for British Art, 1984.
Highly Important Victorian Paintings and Drawings. Catalogue for sale of 18 April 1978. London: Sotheby's Belgravia, 1978. Catalogue number 228.
Last modified 29 November 2004