The 1870s was arguably Grimshaw's most successful decade, where his sublime nocturnes, dubbed 'moonlights' began to seal the reputation that lasts to this day. The first years of the decade saw a number of important accolades: the dealer William Agnew began to buy and sell his works in London; in 1874 he exhibited his first work at the Royal Academy, 'The Lady of the Lea' and the following year another four paintings were accepted at the Yorkshire exhibition of Arts and Manufacturers.
In 1872 he was commissioned by the House of Commons to paint three views of the Roundhay Estate, in consideration of the Leeds Corporation Improvement Bill that proposed to turn this former private estate into a Public Park. The result was a series of views which display all the qualities which Grimshaw had developed by the 1870s. The knowledge gained from the early Pre-Raphaelite landscapes emerged as an astute poetic sensibility which produced this extraordinary series.
The early 1870s witnessed in particular the development of the 'moonlights'. In this prime example he delineates the outlines of the trees and branches, throwing them into relief by the light of the moonlit sky. The moon, veiled in thin cloud pours a dense silver across the landscape, throwing multiple reflections from the surface of the mirroring lake, and effusing the sky with a phosphorescence: a product of Grimshaw's keen sense of light and atmosphere.
Grimshaw was arguably the most evocative painter of moonlight and evening scenes, managing to perfectly portray the 'gloaming' that captured much of the poetic imagination and English romantic zeitgeist of the age, feeding the enormous appetite the Victorians had for such mood. It was well recognised by his contemporaries that these views were not just topographical, but fitted in with the literary atmosphere of the times. His decision to broaden his early style and to exchange brilliant daylight for night effects gave him the opportunity to evoke those feelings associated with darkness and moonlight. The moon, breaking through the clouds, reflects the atmosphere of many Victorian novels and poems and it is no wonder that Grimshaw paintings were in such demand for book illustrations. Grimshaw himself was inspired by the writings of Wordsworth, Browning, Shelley and in particular Tennyson, and his Pre-Raphelite experiences had heightened his poetic sensibility, which had by this point become a precise clarity of poetic vision.
Our thanks to Alexander Robertson for his assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.