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Atkinson Grimshaw, Reflections on the Thames (1880)

Explorations in the Cultural History of Light and Illumination

Karen Sayer    Leeds Trinity University, UK    

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abstract

The periods in which each new or refined form of artificial lighting have become dominant have presented their illumination as characteristic of the highest state of progress, as a significant stage of development that has lifted humanity out of a state of nature. Meanwhile, the everyday use of lighting has been complex, driven by practicality, expediency and materiality, not linear ‘progress’. This paper explores these uses, the reception and meanings attaching to artificial illumination during the nineteenth century, through the lens of Atkinson Grimshaw’s Reflections on the Thames (1880). In this painting, situated within a long history of nocturnes and landscapes, we also see an heterogenous interplay of reflected artificial (gas, oil, electric arc) light, each consumed simultaneously within metropolitan culture, itself seen as the apogee of civilisation for the time, all cut through by the tidal river Thames and (natural) moon light. In this painting, we see how a Victorian genre artist, reflecting on the Thames, created a narrative of London as an unsleeping, working Capital, framed by nature, dependent on its forces, illuminated, yet shady, multifaceted, effortful.

Published
Sept. 28, 2017
Accepted
April 10, 2017
Submitted
March 7, 2017
Language
EN

Keywords: LightGrimshawEmpireIlluminationThames

Copyright: © 2017 Karen Sayer. This is an open-access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction is permitted, provided that the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. The license allows for commercial use. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.