This work is dated 1868 making it one of his early works, painted during the same period as Grimshaw’s other Lake District paintings, including Windermere (1863) and Nab Scar (1864).
His technique was continually evolving, and works from this period are evidence of his close alignment to the methods and principals of the Pre-Raphaelites and the mantra of ‘truth to nature’ as espoused by John Ruskin. Painstaking attention to detail and an endeavour to record true nature particularly manifest themselves in a series of Lake District views that Grimshaw produced in the 1860’s.
Nature is celebrated and the view enlivened through Grimshaw’s use of precise and carefully detailed observation. Miniscule brushwork details each blade of glass, foliage and ripples in the water. Thin black paint serves to both outline and create shadow within the rocks, each one precisely depicted. Grimshaw’s use of bright, vibrant passages of green, blue and pink further brings vitality to the scene.
The leading expert on Grimshaw, Alexander Robertson, comments in relation to the Lake District paintings, ‘… everything is brightly coloured and seen in a clear light, presenting a dazzling landscape of a startling, Pre-Raphaelite kind. The handling is delicate and precise, the drawing sharp, the paintwork enamel-like in its hardness.’
Voted as one of the best views in Britain, Buttermere still holds a special place in the nation’s heart. The footpath on the left running round the perimeter of the lake is still used to this day.
Sadly, what cannot be seen from these images is the intricate detail painted by Grimshaw, such as smoke rising in front of the mountains Fleetwith Pike in the distance middle left. Also the fine ripples of the water across the lake and all the individual leaves of the plants in the foreground.
John Atkinson Grimshaw
John Atkinson Grimshaw was born in Leeds, the son of an ex-policeman. Grimshaw first took up painting while he was employed as a clerk for the Great Northern Railway and by 1861, he had abandoned his job in order to devote all his time to becoming an artist. In his early work, he was influenced by John Ruskin’s creed of ‘truth to nature’ and adopted the detailed Pre-Raphaelite technique of the Leeds painter, John William Inchbold. He was also fascinated by the relatively new art of photography and may have used a camera obscura in developing his compositions.
Towards 1865, Grimshaw painted many urban scenes in which moonlight and shadows were the most striking features. The towns and docks that he painted most frequently were Glasgow, Liverpool, Leeds, Scarborough, Whitby and London. These works have become his best known although he also painted landscapes, portraits, interior scenes, fairy pictures and neo-classical subjects. Grimshaw painted mostly for private patrons. He exhibited five works at the Royal Academy in 1874, 1880, 1885 and 1886. He also exhibited at Sir Coutts Lindsay’s Grosvenor Gallery in 1885.
By 1870, Grimshaw had become successful enough to move to Knostrop Old Hall, a seventeenth century mansion about two miles from the centre of Leeds, which featured in many of his paintings. He rented another home near Scarborough which he called ‘The Castle by the Sea’, towards 1876. Grimshaw suffered a serious financial disaster in 1879 and had to leave his house at Scarborough. He moved to London from 1885-87 and rented a studio in Chelsea, leaving his family at Knostrop. He returned to Knostrop, where he died in 1893.
In 1858 at the age of 24 he married his cousin Frances Theodosia Hubbarde. Several of his children, Arthur Grimshaw (1864-1913), Louis H Grimshaw (1870-1944), Wilfred Grimshaw (1871-1937) and Elaine Grimshaw (1877-1970), became painters.
Museums and Galleries
Tate Britain, London, Bradford City Art Gallery, the Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead, the Gloucester Museum and Art Gallery, the Bankfield Museum, Halifax, the Harrogate Museums and Art Gallery, the Ferens Art Gallery, Kingston-upon-Hull, the Leeds City Art Gallery, the Huddersfield Art Gallery, Kirklees Metropolitan Council, the Harris Art Gallery, Preston, the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, the Guildhall Art Gallery, the Scarborough Art Gallery, the Wakefield Art Gallery and Museums, the Pannett Gallery, Whitby, the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Brest, France, the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut, the Nelson-Atkins Gallery, Kansas City, Missouri, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, the Museum of Art, New Orleans, Louisiana, the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island in the United States, the Shepparton Art Centre, Welsford, Victoria, Australia.