Saturday, 23 October 2010

Well met by moonlight

There was a time when many people would have been unable to complete the artist's name on this catalogue, which I have only managed to scan in part. Not any more. Just last week, a painting by the Leeds policeman's son John Atkinson Grimshaw went for over £100,000 at auction in Alnwick, Northumberland. The couple selling the moonlit study of Liverpool's Salthouse dock had bought it for £100 in the 1960s. That was in London's Burlington Arcade whose dealers always charge premium prices. The value of money has changed since then, but only enough to mean that the £100 is worth £1440 today.

What is it about Atkinson Grimshaw? Easy, most people would say. The moonlight. And there is another example of a point I bang on about in True North: the fact that easy cliches about dark grimness in our region are tosh. The book gives lots of examples of Northern light, from Leverhulme's Port Sunlight on the Wirral to 1930s Fresh Air & Light schools in colliery towns all over the region. Grimshaw is another example and I specially like his work because, as the introduction to the book featured in my picture says, "Grimshaw's moonlight fell on all his subjects, from landscapes to city streets. Always, though, there are people about..." Their presence (even though I have failed to scan in the oarsmen and other figures on my picture, maybe because it's of London...) is another attraction of the True North. The book, incidentally, is the Catalogue of Leeds City Art Gallery's exhibition in 1979 which gave the AG revival legs. The introduction is by Dr David Broomfield who was then head of art at Liverpool Polytechnic, and a Grimshaw specialist.

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