Salthouse Docks, Liverpool Although Atkinson Grimshaw gave his cityscape the deceptively simple title St. Anne's Square, Manchester, the painting itself is anything but simplistic. It is a scene of misty dusk in tones of yellow, brown, and orange that meld into one another and give the impression of smog in the air, which, though dirty, is also eerily beautiful. Artificial light pours from the windows of buildings and from the gas street lamps onto the cobblestone road and highlights its slick, rain-soaked surface. The pedestrians, who if shown in brighter or direct light would appear mundane and unremarkable, become functions of the mystery exuding from the fog.

Evening GlowEvening Glow, though most obviously different in its portrayal of a rural instead of an urban scene, has many of the same features as St. Anne's Square, Manchester, such as a similar color scheme and a similar use of mist and twilight to evoke a mysterious aura. In fact, muted colors and evening or night scenes are the most consistent characteristics of Grimshaw's paintings. As the variations between St. Anne's Square, Manchester and Evening Glow show however, these characteristics that provide the basic framework for his paintings allow for a great range of subject matter. In turn, the application of like colors and twilight to the various subjects allows Grimshaw to show similarities between them that otherwise might not be apparent. For example, in the previously mentioned pictures, he is able to evoke the same sort of almost ghostly atmosphere in both an industrialized city and a quiet forest path. Also, though there are multiple human figures in the urban landscape and only a solitary girl in the woods in the rural one, the viewer feels in looking at the characters that they are isolated in both works. Pictorially, Grimshaw demonstrates how it is possible for both locations to feel otherworldly and how one can be alone both when he is physically separate from others and when he is in the midst of other people.

Questions

1. The author of the Alexander Gallery catalogue states that "The artist's harbor scenes may owe a debt to both J.M.W. Turner and to Whistler". Is this accurate? Do you see similarities in the styles of these three artists when you include other paintings by Grimshaw than just his harbor scenes?

2. What are the recurrent themes in Grimshaw's works? Besides urban and rural landscapes, he also painted mythological and medieval subjects, such as Iris, Goddess of the Rainbow and Elaine. Do these paintings lend themselves to the same sorts of interpretations as do his realistic pictures?

3. If human beings appear at all in Grimshaw's paintings, they are almost always shown at a distance with indistinguishable facial features. Why do you think the artist chose to do this?

4. It is relatively easy to interpret landscapes that depict unadulterated nature (such as Evening Glow or The Rainbow) as beautiful. It is more difficult to see the beauty in urbanization. Are the mist and dim light the only beautiful elements of his cityscapes? Or do the dusk and fog bring out the inherent but previously hidden beauty of the cities?

References

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 19 March 1979. London: Sotheby's Belgravia, 1978. Catalogue numbers 227, 228.


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Last modified 30 November 2004