Monday, February 05, 2007

Nocturne Illuminates Christie's King Street Sale

John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893)
Lovers in a Wood by Moonlight
Signed and dated 'Atkinson Grimshaw 73/+' (lower left)
Oil on card
14 1/8 x 9 1/8 in. (36 x 23.2 cm.)
Estimate: £100,000 - 150,000

John Atkinson Grimshaw, more readily known as Atkinson Grimshaw, was one of the most successful English painters of the Victorian era. He developed a particular, if rather peculiar, expertise in nocturnal scenes and specialized in atmospheric pictures - cityscapes with rain-soaked streets reflecting the glow of gas lamps, and misty, moonlit-river scenes. He also painted eroticized fairies, a highly-popular theme at the time.

This painting, Lovers in a Wood by Moonlight, was produced just as Grimshaw was beginning to experiment with the nocturnal images for which he became known. Despite the haze of atmospheric effect, areas of the work are in sharp focus, with an extraordinary clarity given to the barren twigs and masses of dampened leaves. Only the lovers upon which we have intruded are painted in shadowed obscurity.

James McNeill Whistler, a contemporary of Grimshaw's, said of his friend, "I considered myself the inventor of Nocturnes until I saw Grimmy's moonlit pictures." Not only was he admired by colleagues, but his paintings garnered a great deal of success with the public, as well. His work was included at the Royal Academy in 1874 and he was represented by London's leading dealers, Thomas Agnew & Sons. But the financial success was temporal, and tempered by the loss of three of his children. Grimshaw often revisited previously-painted scenes, and a similar example to this image, but with only one figure, is in the collection at Leeds City Art Gallery.

Grimshaw's Lovers in a Wood by Moonlight (lot number 104) is the highlight of Christie's February 28th sale, Christopher Wood: A Very Victorian Eye, at their King Street location. With a provenance including Wood, England's preeminent expert on Victorian art, the hammer price for this small, but important work may well exceed the estimated £100,000 - 150,000. The last major Grimshaw, a work titled Liverpool Custom House and Wapping, was sold by Sotheby's in December 2006, and brought £612,800 - well over its estimate of £150,000 - £ 200,000.

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