Atkinson Grimshaw: Painter of Moonlight Exhibit in London

By , Columnist

If you are in the UK between September 19 and January 15, 2012, make sure that you see the Atkinson Grimshaw exhibition at the City of London’s Guildhall: you will not be disappointed.

In June, I made a trek up to the Yorkshire town of Harrogate where this exhibition was first shown and it was simply one of the best art displays I have ever seen. I have loved the works of Grimshaw since I was a Leeds University student (a very long time ago!) and I came across some of his paintings in the city’s art gallery.


I was delighted at reconnecting with his work and seeing so much more of it. Some pictures marked ‘private collection’ have been lent, I was told, by ‘politicians and entertainers’. With my brain quickly into gear, I started running through a list of stars known to collect Victorian art: Rod? Ozzy? But, sadly, the guides would give nothing more away.

John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893) was a self-taught artist who became famous for his Pre-Raphaelite style landscapes and haunting nocturnal scenes. Grimshaw is known as ‘the painter of moonlight’, mainly because of his works featuring moonlit suburban lanes, gas-lit streets and docksides.  They capture a world gone by: the coming of electric light put an end to the shimmering gaslight on rain-washed city streets that he painted so evocatively.


Close up, his works take on a mystery: just how did he create that mesh of tiny hairlike branches in paintings of winter trees, or the golden glow back-lighting misty buildings, or the iridescent wings of ’Iris’? We can only imagine.

The exhibition includes drawings, manuscripts and photographs to help visitors develop a greater understanding of Atkinson Grimshaw’s life, which no-one could describe as easy. Tragedy touched his family - three little daughters died in one year. He died prematurely at fifty seven, successful but not wealthy.

A new book has been written to tie in with the exhibition: Atkinson Grimshaw: Painter of Moonlight, edited by Jane Sellars, is the most detailed study of his life and work to date and is available only at the Guildhall gallery shop (£20). Earlier books about the artist are available on Amazon.

Atkinson Grimshaw: Painter of Moonlight runs from Monday 19th September 2011 to Sunday 15th January 2012. Tickets cost £5 (£3 concessions and free under 16).  Telephone: 020 7332 3700, email

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Margaret Holder has been writing about the Royal Family in newspapers and magazines for thirty years. She also broadcasts frequently on the BBC, both radio and television. She reckons she has now written more royal documentaries than anyone else in the world. Some are still being shown on channels in…

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