Saturday, October 27, 2012


Power of sea be yours,
Power of land be yours,
Power of heaven.

The great Celtic scholar Dr. Anne Ross once said, 'Everyone with European roots can consider themselves of Celtic origin.' People who are not directly descended from Irish, Welsh, or Scottish families tend to think they have no Celtic roots, but in reality so many different European tribes contributed to the creation of Celticism, and over thousands of years such a mixing of populations has occurred, that virtually anyone alive today with European ancestry can be said to have Celtic origins.

Samhain Goddess, 'The Crone' by Angela Jayne Barnett

The old people had runes which they sang to the spirits dwelling in the sea and in the mountain, in the wind and in the whirlwind, in the lightning and in the thunder, in the sea and in the moon and in the stars of heaven. I naught but a toddling child at the time, remember well the ways of the old people ~ Carmina Gadelica

The early Celts divided their year into halves, called in Old Celtic gam, winter, and sam, summer. These words also have deeper resonances of meaning as dark/light, female/male, rest/work. Samhain at the end of October and beginning of  November marked the start of winter, and evidence suggests it may also have been the Celtic New Year, for the Celts reckoned the birth of the year from the darkening months, and likewise, their days began at dusk. 


I have tidings for you;
The stag bells,
Winter snows,
Summer has gone.

Samhain was the beginning of the Celtic year, it closed a cycle and opened a new one. At this moment of the year, the veil between the visible and the invisible worlds grew most thin, allowing both realms to communicate. The boundaries between the living and the dead, the ancestors, the gods, the heroes faded away, as did the borders between past, present and future. The non-physical realm was at the same time celestial and terrestrial, referred to as the Otherworld and the Underworld.

The Otherworld is related to Eternity and best explained by Caitlin Matthews in her book, 'The Celtic Tradition':

"Perhaps more than any other people, the Celts have always cherished the country of their true home -the Otherworld. It is the source of their wisdom, the place of their gods, the dimension in which poets and wanderers are most at home. Whoever has visited the Otherworld becomes more than mortal... The realms of the Otherworld are of the ever-living, where everything is possible, where great deeds are accomplished...".

Hence, the Otherworld is the dwelling place of the Heroes, the Blessed ones whose qualities made them superior. It is AVALON, the "Apple-isle", a paradise across the sea, where the gods and heroes feed on apples of immortality.

 Pomona, 1885 by William Morris & Edward Burne-Jones

 Together with his and Burne-Jones’s tapestry of Pomona, he captures the Goddess of Fruit & Harvest in a poem: 

I am the ancient apple-queen,
As once I was so am I now.
For evermore a hope unseen,
Betwixt the blossom and the bough.

Indeed Morris proves her to be “betwixt the blossom and the bough”, as acanthus leaves and flowers swirl about her. She appears supported by a tumult of nature, as the foliage seems to teem with the movement of her life around her. The leaves possess that lively movement of nature that Morris injects into all his designs, so our eyes have no choice but to follow the leaves as they dip and dive; we are caught, and here Morris shows us the power of just one of the figures that he seeks to personify. A source, Morris uses such figures to truly weave enchantment into his depictions of nature.

Samhain is the celebration of the Life which never dies. It's the time to harvest the fruits and to keep the seeds to initiate a new cycle. The celebration of the never dying spirit is expressed in many ways at Samhain: Apples and nuts are associated with Samhain and Halloween, as symbols of Eternity and hidden Wisdom. The Apple is the fruit of the Otherworld growing in Avalon. When cut crosswise, the apple displays 5 seeds embedded within a five-branch star, symbol of the Welsh Sow Goddess Cerridwen (the Morrigu) and of the spiritual quintessence ("fifth essence"). The apple then came to be known as the "fruit of the Gods". Apples and nuts are also found on the "silver branch" carried by the poets, or fili, since poets draw their inspiration from the ever fertile Otherworld. Another reminder of Eternity at the door of the dark season was the mistletoe. The sacred mistletoe grows upon the oak, drawing its life-force from the essence of the King of the trees. "At Samhain, a sheaf of corn, a branch of evergreen or mistletoe symbolically carried on the dying powers of vegetation. Carrying or decorating with evergreens demonstrates that life has not died.

The invisible realm is the "Underworld"quite distinct from the Otherworld. This element of the Celtic cosmology rooted in older native beliefs was not conceived of as a hell or place of punishment. It was the well of the primal forces of Life, before and after creation; the place where that which was not yet encountered that which was not anymore. It is the realm of the ancestors, exemplified by the ever turning wheel, "the mill in which the gods of the underworld reside, in which the dead are remade, and initiates reborn.

The different worlds -visible and invisible- are not separate; there are bridges. Many gifts pass between mortals and the Otherworld folk: the power of healing, the power to sing, to make music or create poetry. The faery mounds, or sidhes, are the homes of the Otherworld beings, still known in every Celtic country as the Little people: the brownies, the elves, the fairies, the corrigans, the goblins, the gnomes, etc.
 Midsummer Eve by Edward Robert Hughes, 1908

Samhain inaugurated the Celtic year, but also the beginning of the season of cold, dearth and darkness. At Samhain, beasts were rounded up and brought into stockades for wintering over, excess livestock was slaughtered since they could not be kept alive during the hard months of cold and dearth of grain (the herds would be driven out at Beltain). The slaughter took on a ritual and sacrificial aspect.

As the cold was intensifying, bonfires were lit. Their purpose was double: encourage the Sun as the Life-giver (sympathetic magic), and draw upon the elemental quality of fire, as an agent of purification. As at Beltain bonfires, people jumped over them and cattle were driven through them; it was a way of getting rid of evil influences, but also of ridding the cattle of parasites.

As the boundaries between the realms faded away, it was the perfect time for divination and the reading of omens, such as placing two nuts in the fire for lovers -burning steadily denoted constancy, popping was inconstancy. It was a time for storytelling, poetry, singing and playing tricks, evoking the ancestors and the glorious deeds of the heroes.To the Celts, magic was not about "weird" or "occult" practices. It was only the invisible made visible; the tree seen in the seed. Needless to say, the Druids were the experts of this art and science, the ones who had a perfect knowledge and control of the complex forces of Nature.

Two Pre-Raphaelite paintings below are left to right: The Magic Circle by J.W. Waterhouse, 1886, housed at Tate Gallery and Morgan leFay by Frederick Sandys, 1864, housed at Birmingham Art Gallery.

Because of its Death-Life double aspect, Samhain was under the influence of Goddesses as The Cailleach, Cerridwen (the Morrighan) and Dana. These are key elements in the understanding of the symbolism of Samhain, but also of Halloween, since these deities are the very ancestors of our modern ugly witch! As Caitlin Matthews explains: "One of the oldest deities, perhaps a truly native goddess of Britain and Ireland who was incorporated into the Celtic tradition is the Cailleach or the Old One... About her are found fragmentary stories concerning the control of the weather and the formation of mountain ranges. She is the Mountain Mother of native tradition who has submerged in Celtic story, occasionally appearing as a helper or a hinderer of the hero. Like the British Cerridwen, she guards a cauldron into which the heroes are thrust to be healed and hardened. She sometimes appears in the aspect of the Dark Woman of Knowledge, disguised as an ugly young woman who nevertheless possesses great wisdom. The fragmentary myths which remain embedded in Celtic folklore speak of her pursuit of the Hero, who is often her own son. By harrying the hero, she forces him to grow and develop wisdom.The Morrighan draws directly on the Cailleach's character... As territorial ancestress of the land, she proclaims the peace, but she does not cease prophesying, going on to foretell a world in which the natural order is overtaken by unnatural disaster. Her prophetic voice echoes long down to our own times, for the Cailleach is both the giver and the taker of life and she outlives the ending of the world by renewing it within herself.

These deities related at the same time to Death and Life (renewal) show how rich the Celtic view of Life and the World was, as the Celts knew to welcome and integrate the "night-forces", along with the "day-forces". Today's witches (that we display at Halloween) have become the image of exclusively 'evil' and negative aspects. We have forgotten that they also are the messengers of wisdom!

The Celtic Tradition by Caitlin Matthews, Element Books Ltd; illustrated edition edition (December 1996).
Kindling The Celtic Spirit: Ancient Traditions to Illumine Your Life Through the Seasons by Mara Freeman,  Harper One; 1st edition (December 26, 2000).

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Friday, October 26, 2012

The Great Exhibition of 1851 held at the Crystal Palace in London

The Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, home to the Great Exhibition of 1851

 The Great Nave of the Crystal Palace, photograph 1854, Philip Henry Delamotte, V&A

The Great Exhibition took place at London's Hyde Park in 1851 inside a building called the Crystal Palace. The Crystal Palace was 1,848 feet long and 454 feet wide and covered 19 acres of London's Hyde Park. The idea for this building was the brainchild of Henry Cole. However, it was designed by Joseph Paxton head gardener at Chatsworth and close friend of John Atkinson Grimshaw. The man who would ensure this great 'happening' was none other than Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria.  The Great Exhibition took place over five months from May to October 1851, six million visitors came to what was basically a massive trade show. There were 100,000 exhibits from all across the globe where Art and Science came together in an effort to stimulate industrial design. For instance, Fine Art objects were not permitted unless they also revealed some technical expertise. The collections were remarkably diverse, some beautiful, but others rather strange. The most popular exhibitions were those housed in the machinery court where the seemingly limitless possibilities of steam power could be seen. It was a triumphant success and so many people visited that they consumed over a million and a half buns. 

This is one of a set of colour lithographic prints published as a boxed set under the title 'Lloyd's Recollections of the Great Exhibition 1851'. This view depicts Garrett & Sons Leiston Works farm machinery stand at the Great Exhibition; among the viewers was a farmer in rural dress. An agricultural court was added to the exhibition at the last minute. The implements for display were secured following the cancellation of the Royal Agricultural Society's plans for an independent exhibition in Hyde Park. The inclusion of an agricultural section proved to be important in appealing to a wider audience.

The transept from the Grand Entrance, Souvenir of the Great Exhibition, Print, 1851 by McNeven, J. (draughtsman (artist), William Simpson (lithographer.  This lithograph shows the fountain, which was a popular meeting point during the exhibition. The height of the transept allowed trees to grow inside the building, as you can see here. This print shows the large scale of the Crystal Palace, with sunshine streaming in through the vast numbers of windows.

The initial entrance price of five shillings for the first three weeks attracted what the Times called 'the wealthy and the gently and nobly born', but at the end of May the price was dropped to a shilling and by the time the exhibition closed in October more than six million people had visited it; a number representing about a fifth of the population of Great Britain at the time. John Tallis, who wrote a guide to the exhibition, suggested that, 'All social distinctions were for the moment merged in the general feeling of pride and admiration at the wondrous result of science and labour exhibited in the Palace of Glass. Never before in England had there been so free and general a mixture of classes as under that roof.'
The classes and the masses. Punch (14 June 1851) This picture illustrates the insistence that all classes of society were equally intent on visiting the exhibition.

Nothing like the Crystal Palace had ever been built, and skeptics predicted that wind or vibration would cause the colossal structure to collapse.Prince Albert had detachments of soldiers march through the various galleries before the exhibit opened. No panes of glass broke loose as the soldiers marched about in lockstep, and the building was deemed safe for the public. As the royal family stood on a carpeted platform in the center hall of the Crystal Palace, surrounded by dignitaries and foreign ambassadors, Prince Albert read a formal statement about the purpose of the event. The Archbishop of Canterbury then called for God's blessing upon the exhibition, and a 600-voice choir sang Handel's "Hallelujah" chorus. Queen Victoria, in a pink formal gown suited to an official court occasion, declared the Great Exhibition to be open. 

The Opening of the Great Exhibition by Queen Victoria on 1 May 1851 by Henry Courtenay Selous. The painting shows the Archbishop of Canterbury blessing the Exhibition. Commissioners, ministers and dignitaries surround the Royal Family. More than 25,000 people attended the opening day. The artist included Sir Henry Cole, later the first director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, in the group on the left.

 Her Majesty and the Princes passing through the Crystal Palace 1851 Print by H.Sharles. This lithograph shows Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their children at the Great Exhibition of 1851. The venue was the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London. Prince Albert had helped to set up the Great Exhibition. He appointed the Royal Commission to decide on the content, the building and its site. Queen Victoria opened the exhibition in the purpose-built Crystal Palace on 1 May 1851.

 Tallis's History and Description of the Crystal Palace, and the Exhibition of the World's Industry in 1851, John Tallis & Co., 1852, from The Great Exhibition of 1851, Jeffrey A. Auerbach (1999)

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Monday, October 22, 2012

My review of A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir

In this engrossing novel of historical suspense, New York Times bestselling author Alison Weir tells the dramatic intertwined stories of two women—Katherine Grey and Kate Plantagenet—separated by time but linked by twin destinies . . . . involving the mysterious tragic fate of the young Princes in the Tower.
When her older sister, Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Days’ Queen, is executed in 1554 for unlawfully accepting the English crown, Lady Katherine Grey’s world falls apart. Barely recovered from this tragic loss she risks all for love, only to incur the wrath of her formidable cousin Queen Elizabeth I, who sees Katherine as a rival for her insecure throne.
Interlaced with Katherine’s story is that of her distant kinswoman Kate Plantagenet, the bastard daughter of Richard III, the last Plantagenet king. In 1483, Kate travels to London for Richard’s coronation, and her world changes forever.
Kate loves her father, but before long she hears terrible rumors about him that threaten all she holds dear. Like Katherine Grey, she falls in love with a man who is forbidden to her. Then Kate embarks on what will become a perilous quest, covertly seeking the truth about what befell her cousins the Princes in the Tower, who may have been victims of Richard III’s lust for power. But time is not on Kate’s side, or on Katherine’s.
Katherine finds herself a prisoner in the Tower of London, the sinister fortress that overshadowed the lives of so many royal figures, including the boy princes. Will Elizabeth demand the full penalty for treason? And what secrets will Katherine find hidden within the Tower walls?

Lady Katherine Grey

'A Dangerous Inheritance' is a work of fiction divided into four parts, chronologically covering the lives of Lady Katherine Grey (1553-1563)  and Kate Plantagenet (1483-1487). Along with a very helpful Afterword, there are four family tree's: The Royal House of Tudor, The Royal Houses of Lancaster and York, The Herbert Family, and The Seymour Family. Personally, I would have been lost without these to refer back to. There are a lot of historical figures and family members included in the plot and storyline, so if the reader is not well versed with The Plantagenets, I would recommend keeping these handy! 

Overall, I enjoyed 'A Dangerous Inheritance.' I am very familiar with dual storylines with corresponding chapters that go back and forth within geographical locations, eras, etc. Historian and storyteller, Alison Weir does a fine job keeping the history in tact while throwing in some 'devices' to keep the reader enthralled. For instance, the dialogue's between jailer, Sir Edward Warner and Katherine Grey, I enjoyed reading and thought it gave 'A Dangerous Inheritance' a fresh perspective on an old tale! 

Prevalent throughout, 'A Dangerous Inheritance' is one of my absolute favorite women, Elizabeth I, cousin to The Grey Family, written as a strong ruler yet not as ruthless as found in other works of fiction. Some Tudor notables mentioned as with Edward VI still surprises me to read about but fun nonetheless. 

I enjoyed reading Lady Katherine Grey's storyline for the innocence of first love even if it was an 'arranged marriage.' Katherine was a young girl who was very close with her sister Jane Grey, who loved and respected her parents but more importantly seemed to obey them without much fuss. I found Kate Plantagenet, although much less familiar with her history, she was still just a bit too serious, easily distracted and a bit gullible at times. I admired her fighting spirit and love of family as well, but found myself too disinterested in her storyline. This is probably just bad timing with all the 'Richard III' revival happening now! 
I will say overall, if you are new to the history of The Plantagenets and The Grey Family, you will be enthralled. However, if you know about the histories, you could find yourself easily bored! 

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Friday, October 19, 2012

Jane Burden: The Pre--Pre-Raphaelite Muse

Dante Gabriel Rossetti's La Pia de Tolomei
Today is the birthday of Jane Burden Morris, Pre-Raphaelite Muse. One of the most recognizable women of the 19th century and the Pre-Raphaelite art movement. Instead of writing a biographical article, I thought instead, I would share excerpts of a lecture taken from,'Wilfrid Scawen Blunt and the Morrises, The 1980 Kelmscott Lecture (The William Morris Society)'.  So, the text will end abruptly because this lecture goes in-depth into not only Jane Burden and The Burden Family's lives but involves some PRB members as well. I wanted to simply focus on Ms. Burden on the day of her birth, 19 October 1839...

Jane's parents had arrived in Oxford in the early 1830s, as part of the influx of young people who were driven to the towns by the Enclosure Acts, and where Robert Burden's elder brother James was already established at Magdalen College as Stable Groom. Robert came from Stanton Harcourt, a village about 8 miles South West of Oxford, where he was baptised on 3rd April 1808, and his wife Ann came from Alvescote, 5 miles North East of Kelmscott and 16 miles West of Oxford, where she was baptised on 6th October 1805. It was from her mother's side of the family that Jane inherited her tall dark looks.

The Burdens were married on 6th May 1833 in the church of St. Mary Magdalen at the junction of Broad Street and Cornmarket Street, but by 1835 they had moved eastwards to St. Helen's Passage in the parish of St. Peter-in-the-East, where their first child, Mary Anne, was baptised on 17th May. It is St. Helen's Passage that is just opposite the Music Room in Holywell, a group of small tenements built at the end of the 18th century, which although picturesque, were described thus in 1848, 'St. Helen's is said to have been much improved within the last few years, but the part near New College Lane is still very bad. There are several very unwholesome dirt heaps, an exceedingly bad surface drain, and a deep pit partly filled with solid matters and covered with a wooden trap door is situated close to a house, the inhabitant of which complained much of the smell arising from it.' These 'surroundings of extreme beauty' were typical of the courts and alleyways where the migrants had settled, proving too great a strain on the town's resources, so that the problem of the disposal of sewage resulted in the cholera outbreaks of 1832, 45 and 53. Life was rough, and in a disquieting incident on 30th January 1837, Robert Burden appeared before the magistrates for assaulting a Mrs. Moore of Holywell, and was fined ten shillings and costs and bound over to keep the peace for twelve months. This was a large sum for him to pay, for in March 1837 a parish rate was levied, and in the Churchwarden's accounts, on a page headed 'Not collected in the March rate' appears a list of names bracketed 'the whole of this List are Poor.' and at the end is entered 'Rent £5 Burden 3d'.
 St. Helen's Passage. lane Burden was born in one of the houses on the
left in 1839. 

On 30th April 1837 a son, William, was baptised, and Robert was described as an Ostler; on 19th October 1839 Jane was born, her mother registered the birth on 26th November, and the certificate states that she was born in St. Helen's Passage, that her father was a Stableman, and her mother's former name was Maizey; it is signed with a cross, for Ann was illiterate, although Robert was not. In 1842 the last child, Elizabeth, was born.
 St. Helen's Passage as it looks today
In 1839, as part of the ordinary rate list Robert Burden paid 1/- and in 1840, 2/-. His name then disappears from the returns of St. Peter-in-the-East, for by the Census of 1841 the Burdens had crossed over to the North side of Holywell which lay within the parish of St. Cross, or Holywell, where they lived in Brazier's Passage, between Nos. 23 and 24; Charles Symonds' livery stables were at No. 30 and the Music Room at No. 34. There were Parish Schools for poor children, and it is likely that the Burdens sent their children to the Holywell school, which was nearest; however they may have gone to St. Peterin-the-East in Rose Lane, just across the road from the cottage in Gravel Walk at Magdalen, occupied by James Burden and his wife. Jane told Mackail that 'she used to pick violets on the !ffley Road, just out of St. Clements,' which is near Rose Lane. Although the school registers no longer exist, the prospectus for Rose Lane does, which would be typical, and in 1846 it states that 'the daily girls' school contains about 46 girls under a governess, but is taught chiefly by voluntary assistance. The whole afternoon is given up to Needlework or Ironing and every girl is required to take part in scouring a room on Saturday.' A sampler and exercise book still exist which show that the standard was high; the latter contains an essay on the Duties of a Cook which ate like those described by Floss Gunner in her account of kitchen work at Kelmscott. On 14th September 1849 Mary Anne died of tuberculosis, from which she had suffered for 12 months; her death was notified to the Registrar by her aunt Hannah, wife of James Burden, and she signed the death certificate as having been present at the death.

Perhaps because of the unhappy associations, the Burdens moved again, and by 1851 Census they were living at No. 1 King's Head Yard, one of a string of small cottages behind the King's Head public house at No. 17 on the North side, and little larger than the loose-boxes of Symonds' livery stables. William, then aged 14, is described as a College Messenger, and Jane and Elizabeth as Scholars. 

Holywell contained a wide range of people from clergymen to college servants, among whom were a Manciple, a Cook and a Butler. They were sufficiently important to be listed by name under 'College Servants' in the County Directory, including James Burden, so that Robert would have had useful contacts to place William well; Mackail believed him to have been at Lincoln College, but no records survive. The college messengers were the sap in the University grapevine, and provided a service not only between colleges, but also between the tradesmen and college servants. They were said to be able to deliver a letter and bring the reply within two hours.

 Key to street plan of Oxford, from Henry Shiner's Oxford Guide of 1851

1. G. E. Street's office 
2. No. 13 George Street
3. The Oxford Union
4. J. G. Miller's shop
5. Lizzie Siddal's lodgings
6. Dt. Adand's house
7. Holywell Music Room 
8. Symonds' Livery Stables
9. King's Head Yard 
10. No. 65 Holywell Street
11. St. Helen's Passage 
12. Mac1aren's Gymnasium
13. Rose Lane School 
14. Groom's Lodgings (James Burden)

(Philip Webb's home was just off this plan, north of Magdalen Street on
the east side of Se. Giles's).

Where Janey used to live by Margaret Fleming,The first Kelmscott Lecture, WILFRID SCAWEN BLUNT AND THE MORRISES, by Peter Faulkner

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Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Master of Moonlight: John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893)

J.A. Grimshaw

“The work of Atkinson Grimshaw is valuable and unique in several respects. He made a great popular success out of that amalgam of Pre-Raphaelite sentiment, nature and industry that dominated the culture of northern England in the later nineteenth century. His work is our only visual equivalent to the great epics of industrial change’ (David Bromfield, Atkinson Grimshaw 1836-1893), exhibition catalogue, 1979-80 edition, p. 5.

Liverpool Quay by Moonlight, 1887

A Painter’s Dream

The docks at Greenock, in the west of Scoltand, on the River Clyde was the subject of several compositions that J.A. Grimshaw painted and was a favorite location for depicting his night scenes. The industrial cities of Britain and their commercial growth became the source of immense inspiration for Grimshaw, as he celebrated the age of industry, commerce and conspicuous wealth. His use of a carriage, as in Liverpool Quay by Moonlight, 1887, is another characteristic element in Grimshaw’s works acting as an aide to the viewer’s perspective along the orderly straight streets or the lonesome servant girl making her way home. 

 Grimshaw’s dock scenes were almost always depicted at night or with a fading light. In Liverpool Quay by Moonlight, the glow of the moon casts its hazy light coming in from above the painting. By setting the scene under this faded light, Grimshaw was able to show off his skill at depicting the effects of light; here we see the glow from the shop fronts as it literally bounces off the wet cobblestones outside. Grimshaw’s fascination with depicting night scenes follows an allure to painting moonlight scenes during the Romantic era.

 Caspar David Friedrich's Two Men Contemplating the Moon, (1819)

It should be mentioned that Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840), who painted Two Men Contemplating the Moon (1819), is perhaps one of the most well-known painters of this theme. The moon presented a magical and fantastical subject matter and was a source of great inspiration across the arts. For instance, Frederic Chopin composed Nocturne for Piano (1827-460) and Ludwig van Beethoven’s  Moonlight Sonata (1801).  However, one of the most notable painters of moonlight scenes, or ‘nocturnes’, was James Abbot McNeil Whistler, Grimshaw’s contemporary.  As a matter of fact, Grimshaw befriended Whistler whilst in London and it is believed that they possibly shared a studio, Whistler apparently described Grimshaw as an inventor of ‘nocturnes’ saying, ‘I considered myself  the inventor of nocturnes until I saw Grimmy’s moonlight picture.’   

In his paintings of the docks, Grimshaw simultaneously created an image of a poetic and mysterious Victorian Britain, a testimonial snapshot of a great industrial age. His interest in photography also plays a part in this mystical vision, as does his Pre-Raphaelite precision that can be seen in his detailing.


Born in Leeds, in 1836, Grimshaw was the son of a policeman. His parents were strict Baptists and his mother strongly disapproved of his interest in paining and on one occasion she destroyed all his paints. He began working as a clerk for the Great Northern Railway in 1848 in their Leeds office but began to concentrate on painting full-time in 1861. Being a self-taught artist, his early influence is attributed to a contemporary Leeds artist of the Pre-Raphaelite style, John William Inchbold (a friend of John Ruskins). The city also had several art galleries so Grimshaw was able to see the work of Holman Hunt, Henry Wallis, and William Powell Frith. The technique and realism of Pre-Raphaelite style, as well as the intensity and role of color, would also play a part in his later landscapes.  As with the Pre-Raphaelites, he would also draw on contemporary poetry and literature to inspire his work, especially Alfred Lord Tennyson (The Lotus Eaters, The Lady of Shalott and Ode on the death of the Duke of Wellington). 

  Knostrop Hall

John Atkinson Grimshaw with daughter Elaine outside front gateway of Knostrop Hall 

Grimshaw soon became popular in Leeds, selling his work through a couple of small galleries and picture dealers. His growing popularity, particularly with art collectors in the northern urban centers, encouraged him to paint the industrial ports and harbors of Liverpool, Hull, Scarborough, Whitby and Glasgow. By the 1870s, he was at his most successful and had rented Knostrop Hall, a 17th century manor house in Leeds.  Old Hall remained the Grimshaw family main home, for he and his wife Frances Theodosia Hubbard Grimshaw (1835-1917), for the next 23 years. She gave birth to fifteen children but only six reached adulthood; all of whom were named after Tennyson’s poems or historical figures i.e. Elaine and Lancelot.  John Atkinson Grimshaw died at Knostrop Hall on October 13, 1893. It was demolished in 1960.  He used its interiors as a backdrop and painted a series of fashionably dressed women in the style of James Tissot and collaborated with the dealer William Agnew to buy and sell his works in London. 

John Atkinson Grimshaw also painted Knostrop Hall in to his paintings usually as a backdrop home in the foreground or off to the side of a hilltop. Some of my favorites are: 

  Evening Knostrop Hall, 1870
  Knostrop Hall Early Morning, 1870

Some of his nostalgic night scenes include: Nightfall Down the Thames (1880), The Thames by Moonlight (1884). It is even harder to believe that John Atkinson Grimshaw only exhibited five works in total at the Royal Academy, between 1874 and 1886.

 The Thames by Moonlight with Southwark Bridge, 1884

   Nightfall down The Thames, 1880


Atkinson Grimshaw by Alexander Robertson, Phaidon Press Ltd;  1996


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A book review of The Ghost Ship by Kate Mosse

New York Times  bestselling author Kate Mosse returns with  The Ghost Ship , a sweeping historical epic of adventure on the high seas. The B...