Sunday, 8 January 2012

Atkinson Grimshaw: Painter of Moonlight

Verdict: Go see it
Where: Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London
When: 19 September 2011 – 15 January 2012

What is it? An exhibition of the paintings of the Victorian Pre-Raphaelite-style painter John Atkinson Grimshaw. There are over 60 paintings on display stretching Grimshaw's career including both his time spent in Yorkshire and in London.

What did I think? British painting spanning both the Romantic and Pre-Raphaelite periods is known for its amazing attention to detail. Grimshaw definitely meets this high standard with exquisite detail in his paintings but what distinguishes him from the other painters of the time are his nocturne paintings.

The low level of street lighting that existed in Grimshaw's time gives the River Thames a serene feel to it but when the same effect is used to depict an urban scene with dock workers around a flaming barrel, the painting takes on a more foreboding look. Grimshaw is a master of capturing the effect of the moon on the translucent clouds it filters through and how the moonlight reflects off the wet cobblestone roads.

The painting of Piccadily is reminiscent of Pisarro's Boulevard Montmartre and makes you want to see what London would look like if we removed the electric streetlights and replaced them with gas lamps. The risk of a crime spurt would prevent this idea from ever getting off the ground, so Grimshaw offers us an insight into a time gone by and the level of detail in the paintings ensure that we get as close to experiencing it as possible.

Later in his career, Grimshaw switched to a more minimalist impressionistic style but this feels like a waste of his talent as he couldn't bring his naturalistic style to bear and therefore the paintings are nowhere near as intriguing as his nocturnes.

Alongside this is an by the exhibit by contemporary artist Liza Dracup of a set of photographs inspired by Grimshaw's works. She has chosen to focus on Grimshaw's early days when he painted the Yorkshire woods. The standout series of photographs is of the same view of a particular section of the woods on two separate nights and covered in snow during winter, that has a Narnian feel to it.

The exhibition costs £5 to enter and considering that there are over 60 excellent paintings on display, this works out as very good value for money. The rest of the Guildhall gallery is also worth exploring (but I'll write a separate review on that shortly).

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