Car Boot Christie’s Lot no. 3

Glasgow docks; Liverpool Customs House, Looking South; Liverpool Docks and Customs House, by John Atkinson Grimshaw

Auction: £300,500 each

Car Boot £2.50 each

John Atkinson Grimshaw is one of those painters that teeters on the edge of taste.  His work is almost mesmerising, almost tacky. It’s almost beautiful and almost twee.

Born in Leeds (just a few miles from where I’m sitting now) in 1836, Atkinson Grimshaw was true Up North. For a start he had a proper Yorkshire name, and his mum and dad were mortified when he left his perfectly decent work on the railways to become an artist, because it wasn’t a proper job.  He was self taught and canny – utilizing that new-fangled photography to save him the bother of working outside in the grim. He was clearly industrious and knocked them out, taking what seems to be a factory-line approach to his pictures: twilight, streetlamp, looming edifice, glow from shopfront, silhouetted figure, perhaps with rolled umbrella, carriage rolling out of the mist. He was successful, particularly with other Yorkshiremen who’d made some brass, and knew what they liked. He also painted fairies – don’t know what his mum and dad thought about that.

I never saw his work ‘in the flesh’ until a few years back. Until then it always cropped up like this, in anodyne frames for grandpa’s room, or adorning the covers of gothic novels. But Grimshaw pictures really work for me. Partly it’s the documentary value. The places and many of the buildings still stand, and seeing such atmospheric depictions of life on the dark city streets is fascinating. But mostly its because they will always be tied up with opening the pages of a battered penguin classic and being lost in a murky Victorian world of shadow streets, dank green ports, and dark rails of trees before a single, slightly lighted window.

Anyroads, one of our John’s paintings sold this past week for £361,250, at Christie’s Olympiad-inspired ‘London’ themed sale. Not bad, some of us may even be able to afford to buy one- if we remortgage the house, sell the car, children and dog. Those of us that can’t, you can’t go far wrong from picking up these three at £2.50 each, though I’m sure the nice lady might let you have the set for six quid, maybe even five, if you can drive a hard Yorkshire bargain.

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