English painter John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893) had a good thing going in his landscape themes (urban, suburban, dockside, moorland; London and West Yorkshire) and comfortingly reliable set of items for subject: the winding road, the lone human being making a way down it, gloaming coming on. He cranked out quite a few of these, apparently, and every time I discover one I am, you might say, ensorcelled. Who could fail to be caught? Who hasn’t at some time journeyed alone to an uncertain future, with no particular welcoming place to be seen on either hand?
Autumn Evening, above, is sometimes called Autumn Evening at Ritson. The only “Ritson” I can find is a Ritson Road in London. Grimshaw freely recombobulated setting, buildings, walls, and other structures to show what he imagined in the kinds of light that he obviously found fascinating. So who knows exactly where this is? It is likely no exact place, so we go along for the walk or the ride, to enjoy the light and the aesthetic harmony of all the man-made objects.
Late October, above, is available at Sotheby’s for anybody who wants to buy me a Christmas present. Oops, never mind; it has been sold. But we can still read the catalogue note:
“John Atkinson Grimshaw painted a series of views of suburban streets in London and Yorkshire from the 1870s onwards and in the 1880s he painted some of his most beautiful pictures of this subject. The pictures of a solitary female figure, a maid dressed in a cap and shawl and carrying a basket of provisions or laundry, making her way down a leaf and puddle strewn road, are the most emotive and typical of the artist, who was unrivalled in his depiction of the evening gloaming and the dawning morn. . .
Late October depicts an unidentified view and is probably an amalgam of views in North Yorkshire, rather than a specific identifiable location. As Alexander Robinson states, ‘Just as myth and legend were to be plundered for subjects, so actual and historical houses could be put together to form an archetypical mansion’.”
In November Moonlight, Apollo is putting his chariot in the garage; Artemis is taking over the controls of the world. Her silver light makes those moon shadows, while firelight from cozy rooms indoors rivals hers. Have we an invitation to that house?
Above is Moonlight Wharfdale. At first all I can think of is Jane Eyre, wandering around Yorkshire moors, against my advice, with no money and no plan. No person in village or farmstead giving her work or assistance, after intercepting a pig’s second breakfast she abandons civilization altogether to scrabble around on the moorland. Cold, wet, famished, and losing it, she sees a small light in the darkness:
“My eye still roved over the sullen swell and along the moor-edge, vanishing amidst the wildest scenery, when at one dim point, far in among the marshes and the ridges, a light sprang up. ‘That is an ignis fatuus’ was my first thought; and I expected it would soon vanish. It burnt on, however, quite steadily, neither receding nor advancing. . . ‘It may be a candle in a house’ . . . “
But never mind Jane as she goes to peep in the window; just look at that moon and her light! Whistler said of Grimshaw:
“I considered myself the inventor of nocturnes until I saw Grimmy’s moonlit pictures.”
And, yikes, what are those dark things appearing to whirl around the moon’s disk? Hypotheses:
1. Grimshaw had cataracts, and is here projecting, or perhaps issuing a cry for medical help;
2. There really are witches, and they hang out in the north of England or Scotland a lot, loving it on those evenings when they can mount broomsticks and whirl around the moonlight;
3. There really are clouds like that sometimes. Anybody know what they are called?
Many thanks to the people at the Art Renewal Center in New Jersey, for promoting realism in painting. To do that is to preserve our culture and save individual sanity, objectives of real import in comparison with provision of this opportunity for piffle.