Born to a modest family in Leeds, John Atkinson Grimshaw (September 6, 1836 – October 13, 1893) left his railway job at twenty-four, against the wishes of his parents, to become a full-time painter. His early works, beginning about 1861, were highly detailed landscapes and still life paintings that show a strong Pre-Raphaelite influence. The paintings from this period, particularly the landscapes, were frequently exhibited and brought Grimshaw fast success. According to Alexander Robertson, who organized an exhibition of Grimshaw’s work in Leeds in 1979 and also authored a monograph, “Grimshaw’s early success in these years has been seriously underrated, partly because, until recently, the 1860s paintings were relatively unknown.”
By 1868, he had begun to develop what are now referred to as his “Moonlights.” These paintings and later nighttime scenes of urban neighborhoods, often with lone figures cast in eerie glow and shadow, became Grimshaw’s most well-remembered works.
Atkinson Grimshaw, as he would eventually come to sign his paintings, was a popular artist during his career, but remained a mystery for many years, because most of his paintings were tucked away in private collections. More recently, however, there has been a renewed interest in his work, due in part to Robertson’s Leeds exhibition. In 2011 a retrospective exhibition was held at Mercer Art Gallery in Harrogate.