From Centre to Suburb: The female walker in the work of John Atkinson Grimshaw.
University College Cork.
This paper considers the extent to which the solitary female observer, present in a number of Grimshaw’s paintings of nocturnal city streets, provides a vehicle through which the connotative codes carried by the locations within which she is placed could be pictorialized.
Beginning with a mid-nineteenth-century text that discusses the walking habits of William Hogarth and the establishment of this practice as a means of urban observation and representation in eighteenth-century London, this paper argues that this strategy was a well-established practice in London by the middle of the nineteenth century. This practice is then given visual form by Grimshaw in a series of paintings made during the last quarter of the nineteenth century through his inclusion of the solitary female figure who has stopped to observe the street. The locations for these images include famous city centre streets, a common feature of urban representation of the period, but also, more unusually, the anonymous suburban lane. By contrasting the function of this figure in relation to the location, this paper argues that the presence of this figure in the newly emerging suburb was used by Grimshaw as a means to amplify characteristic features of suburban life, such as the suburb as a feminized space offering the opportunity for domestic security. In contrast to Baudelaire’s famous formulation of the urban male walker as observer of the crowd, and by implication the public sphere, Grimshaw’s solitary female figure draws attention to the private spaces of the suburban home.