John Atkinson Grimshaw was born in Leeds, the son of an ex-policeman. He worked as a clerk for the Great Northern Railway, marrying his cousin Frances in 1858, from which date he turned to painting.
Grimshaw’s early work owes a debt to the writing of the influential critic John Ruskin (1819-1900) and to the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites, one of whose circle was the Leeds born landscape painter John William Inchbold (1830-1888) famed for the jewel-like detail of his landscapes. From the late 1860’s Grimshaw took to painting nocturnal urban scenes, set in Glasgow, Liverpool, Whitby, London and Scarborough where he rented a house. In 1870 the artist moved with his young family to Knostrop Hall in Leeds. This house would become the basis for many subsequent compositions, a Jacobean house, a wall, a country lane and a figure, by moonlight or dusk. The 1870’s also saw Grimshaw’s first exhibit at the Royal Academy in 1874 where he continued to show through to 1885.
In 1880 he suffered a financial crisis, following which he rented a studio in London where he painted extensively, from the City and the Thames to Hampstead. Grimshaw was very much an artist of his time, influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites, a magnificent painter of landscape and historical genre in the manner of James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902); he was commercially highly successful. He took advantage of technology in the form of photography and the camera obscura, enabling him to repeat compositions. He is known above all as a painter of urban nocturnes, highly detailed works suffused with atmosphere.
His works can be found in museums in: Bradford; Gateshead; Halifax; Harrogate; Huddersfield; Hull; Kirklees; Leeds; Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery; London, Tate Gallery and the Guildhall Art Gallery; Preston; Scarborough; Wakefield; Whitby; Hartford; Kansas; Minneapolis; New Haven; New Orleans; Rhode Island; Victoria and Port Elizabeth.