John Atkinson Grimshaw (British, 1836-1893)
Property of a Northeastern Collection
John Atkinson Grimshaw (British, 1836-1893)

Whitby Abbey and Church

John Atkinson Grimshaw (British, 1836-1893)
Whitby Abbey and Church
signed and dated 'Atkinson Grimshaw/1876+' (lower right); titled, signed, inscribed and dated 'Whitby abbey and church/ Atkinson Grimshaw./Scarborough./1876=+' (on the reverse)
oil on board
11 x 17 in. (27.9 x 43.2 cm.)
Anonymous sale; Christie's, Edinburgh, 28 April 1987, lot 573.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

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Lot Essay

The 1870s was a highly successful decade for Grimshaw, and one that saw him develop his moonlight scenes into works that have now become synonymous with his name. Grimshaw's career followed a remarkable progression. Born the son of a policeman, he found initial employment as a railway clerk until his marriage to his cousin, Theodosia Hubbard, who was also a cousin of the artist Thomas Sidney Cooper. Theodosia encouraged her husband's artistic ambitions, and in 1861 he retired from the Great Northern Railway and started exhibiting still lives and landscapes. A tour of the Lake District in 1868 resulted in pictures of startling Pre-Raphaelite detail, while their move to Knostrop Old Hall, near Leeds, in 1870 encouraged works in more autumnal hues. Later in his career he found inspiration in depicting the ports of Whitby, Glasgow and London.

For Grimshaw, Whitby became a favorite subject between 1867 and 1888, and by the 1870s, when this picture was painted, Grimshaw was at the height of his popularity. This particular viewpoint, looking across to the Abbey on the cliff top, occurs in many of his pictures of the town from this period. The foreground and the far bank of the river are separated by a strip of moonlit glittering on the water and Grimshaw adds drama to the scene with his use of silhouettes. The atmospheric mood of these moonlit views have been compared to the resonant depictions of Whitby in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It was next to this Abbey, at the Church of St Mary, that Lucy had her encounter with the Count. Grimshaw moved to the spa town of Scarborough in the second half of the 1870s in search of sea air and an antidote to the growing metropolis of Leeds. He rented the romantically named 'Castle by the Sea' from Thomas Jarvis, a patron and local brewer, and arranged to pay his rent by supplying pictures at 10 guineas each. The artist kept a coach and pair and would travel to Whitby which lies only twenty miles north.

We are grateful to Alex Robertson for confirming the authenticity of this work and for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.

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