John Atkinson Grimshaw (British, 1836-1893) Mistress Dorothy
Lot 61
John Atkinson Grimshaw (British, 1836-1893) Mistress Dorothy
Sold for £73,250 (US$ 122,539) inc. premium
Auction Details
Lot Details
John Atkinson Grimshaw (British, 1836-1893)
Mistress Dorothy
signed and dated 'Atkinson Grimshaw/1885' (lower left) also signed, inscribed and dated 'Mistress Dorothy'/Atkinson Grimshaw/1885+' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
69 x 91.5cm (27 3/16 x 36in).


  • In the 1870s Grimshaw repeatedly returned to the theme of a solitary female figure placed in an elegant domestic interior. Edwina Ehrman describes these paintings as valuable records of Grimshaw's life, 'Very little documentary evidence about Grimshaw's life has survived and these paintings offer a valuable insight into the artist's tastes and interests, and his engagement with current ideas about art and design.'1

    Documenting the artistic styles and fashions of the period, Grimshaw's interior scenes reflect the 19th century preoccupation with the aesthetics of interior design and decoration. This was a topical subject in the 1870s with influential designers and writers such as William Morris, Walter Crane and Edward William Godwin championing the reform of all aspects of design, including fashion and home furnishings. This movement became known as the Aesthetic Movement, which stood in reaction to the uniformity and poor craftsmanship of mass factory-made products. Grimshaw's domestic paintings echo the attitudes of the day, 'Grimshaw's models wear fashionable clothes or are dressed in more artistic styles which, like the decoration of the rooms they inhabit, reflect the avant-garde ideas about the dress and interior decoration.'2

    These domestic scenes mirror the pride Grimshaw felt for his new elevated lifestyle after growing up in very modest homes in Leeds and Norwich. His success as a professional artist allowed him to rent a succession of impressive houses such as Knostrop Old Hall and the aptly named Castle-by-the-Sea in Scarborough. Grimshaw took enormous satisfaction in decorating these houses and he became an avid collector of antiques and fashionable Oriental objets d'art, exhibiting his collection at the Leeds Fine Art Club in 1890. His preoccupation with interior design is seen in Mistress Dorothy where a young woman sits in a grand room, lit by the elaborately detailed filigree window behind. Sitting on a finely crafted embroidered wooden chair with a delicate end table adjacent, on which sits an exotic looking gold engraved box and Japanese blue and white porcelain vase below, it is clear that Grimshaw has carefully considered his composition in line with the prevailing ideals of aestheticism of the time.

    Painted in 1885, this is a rare example of Grimshaw's interior scenes of this type which were predominantly painted in the 1870s. Grimshaw became disillusioned with these domestic pictures after the loss of his home in Scarborough, a result of the artist living beyond his means, '...Grimshaw's extravagance and ambition to lead the life of a successful artist undoubtedly compounded his problems. In the 1870s the artist's house was not just an expression of material success. It was also seen as a measure of its owner's aesthetic sensibility and artistic credentials.'3

    Unseen since 1938 this painting gives us an insight into the pressures that Grimshaw felt as a successful artist living in the era of aestheticism.

    1 Edwina Ehrman, Artistic Interiors, ed. by Jane Sellars, Atkinson Grimshaw Painter of the Moonlight, The Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate, 2011, p.87
    2 Ibid, p.87
    3 Ibid, p.99
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