John Atkinson Grimshaw

A Dead Linnet, 1862

Oil on board

Still Life with Bird’s Nest, 1862


A Dead Linnet and Still Life with Bird’s Nest were both made in 1862, when John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836–1893) left his job as a railway clerk to commit himself to painting. Grimshaw was a self-taught artist, whose main experience of art had come through visiting the numerous commercial galleries of 1850s Leeds. These two paintings are typical of Grimshaw’s early output, for which he would walk around Meanwood Valley and collect objects that he would set up and work from in his studio.

Grimshaw carried his tight and intricate style into his subsequent landscape paintings, but although the level of detail is remarkable, the observation by some critics that his brushwork was ‘barely discernible’ was not necessarily intended as a complement. In order to obtain the required effect, Grimshaw was frequently working from commercially available photographs. Such practice was not uncommon, and many painters at the time considered photography to be an important tool for their work.

The appeal of Grimshaw’s open display of skill lies in what I think of as a kind of chaste regionalism. The desire to produce a particular effect seems to be all encompassing, and the methods seem to display a lack of confidence, however virtuoso the finished work might appear. The two paintings here were made at a moment of emergence, a moment of transition between his old and new lives, and thus a moment as fragile as the subject matter.

Exhibited in:

Loaned by:


The Tetley, Leeds (24 Sept 2019 → 19 Jan 2020)

Leeds Art Gallery

The Headrow, Leeds