John Atkinson Grimshaw was a 19th century England painter perhaps best known for his evocative nightscapes. Although he also supplied many wonderful daytime scenes, his nocturne urban views, exhibiting his trademark luminescent moonlight accompanied by gas-lit street lamps, possess an eerie mood which has understandably garnered more attention.
Today I’m featuring his Moonlight Wharfedale, depicting a rural scene which Grimshaw visited several times as his subject. Amidst the other works this rendition stands out to me because of his choice to situate the moon slightly off-canvas at the top. The moon is always a wonderful spectacle, the unsurpassed jewel of our night sky which has captivated the human imagination for thousands of years, but I’ve seen it portrayed in so many different paintings that occasionally I find myself bored with it. Same as with his unquestionably more popular Spirit of the Night, in Moonlight Wharfedale Grimshaw crops out our shining sphere, thus directing our attention to the moonlight which delicately settles over the landscape while its reflection ignites our view of the river.
Spirit of the Night is a great painting which has since experienced a profitable commercial life; its image can now be found represented on postcards, napkins, pendants, watches, iPhone cased, ect. However, for as much I enjoy Spirit’s landscape, I don’t find myself partial to fairies. I know. Oh well.
Our modest scene in Moonlight Wharfedale holds more resonance with me; I love those barrens trees, the ramshackle fence, various indents in the road, and the rendering of those two figures at the gate, admiring the view laid out before them. If the foreground wasn't beautiful enough, we also have that picturesque river meandering its way into distant mountains. The painting achieves a quality which could be described as either tranquil and haunting, depending on the viewer.