Along with Glasgow, Leeds, Scarborough, Whitby and London, it was the setting to which he most drawn. With its docks, fogs, cobbles and the mixture of industrial and classical architecture, the location was well suited to his vividly observed and atmospheric nocturns.
Some of his most famous works depict Liverpool, including an evening scene of carriages and carts passing the city’s Custom House which is now in the Walker Art Gallery and Liverpool Quay by Moonlight from 1887, now in Tate Britain.
A view of the Salthouse Docks that he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1885 was described in an Art Journal review as “something akin to poetry”.
Commercially as well as curatorially, Liverpool holds an innate attraction for the artist’s followers. Capturing the city’s Victorian heyday, these scenes appeal strongly to buyers with connections to Liverpool which makes their appeal wider than just the artist’s regular buyers.
Indeed the auction record for the artist was set for another view of the Custom House that sold for £540,000 at Sotheby’s back in 2006.
The latest Liverpool work to emerge on the market appeared at John Nicholson’s (25% buyer’s premium) on February 17. A small painting of the docks at night, it included many trademark features and, despite its size, conveyed that all-important moody atmosphere.
The Surrey auction house has set notable prices for the artist before, including a moonlit view of a country house that made £80,000 in November 2018.
Here, the 12 x 15¾in (30 x 40cm) oil on board was signed and dated 1892, making it a very late work indeed. But with the figures, carts, ships and the golden glow cast from shop fronts all adding to its appeal, it found good interest against a £20,000-30,000 estimate and it sold at £35,000 to an anonymous buyer – an amount that was not in the premier league of Atkinson Grimshaw prices but nevertheless a decent sum per square inch.
Follow the Leader
Another late Victorian painting bringing competition was a view of a church in a rural landscape by Benjamin Williams Leader (1831-1923).
The Silent Restfulness of Eve was a larger 3 x 5ft (91cm x 1.52m) oil on canvas which was signed and dated 1898 and had provenance to London dealer Agnew’s.
The artist tends to make less than Atkinson Grimshaw but has been known to make six-figure sums on a handful of occasions.
Although he focused on landscapes rather than urban scenes, like Atkinson Grimshaw he exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy and produced many detailed paintings with an almost photographic clarity.
This example depicting a sodden pathway was perhaps less typical than the tranquil summer scenes that tend to make the highest prices but did feature a number of key elements including an attractive mellow sky at dusk and cottages in the distance.
Also showing the artist’s skill at both architecture and landscape, it met with good interest against a £4000-6000 estimate and sold at £17,000 – one of the highest prices for the artist at an auction outside London since Lawrences of Crewkerne sold A sunny afternoon, North Wales for £25,000 in January 2015.