John Atkinson was born in Newcastle and had a variety of jobs before studying art at the city's School of Art. It was probably while working as secretary to the industrialist and art patron, Dr. Charles Mitchell, that he learnt the Pitmans shorthand which he later used to annotate his sketches. He became recognised as an artist through his many exhibits at the Bewick Club in Newcastle. Between 1900 and 1914 he lived in North Yorkshire, first at Sleights and then at Broadleas, Glaisdale where he worked and exhibited with the Staithes Group. The first of ten pictures by him to be
exhibited at the Royal Academy was sent in from Sleights in 1901. He was elected a member of the Staithes Art Club in 1907. Scenes on the moors above Staithes, often featuring horses, were one of his favourite subjects during this period. Of all this group of artists, he was the one most concerned with depicting rural as opposed to coastal life, although he did paint seaside scenes from time to time. He specialised in anatomically accurate pictures of animals, especially horses, depicted with a fluidity of line which imbues his work with life and movement. His lively pencil sketches show his qualities as a draughtsman. He frequently painted farm labourers and
gypsies, visiting Appleby Horse Fair many times and also painting Yarm Fair. He was able to capture the characters of the people he painted and the essence of the situations in which he found them, hayfield, gypsy encampment or outside the pub at Egton Bridge. His sketch books show how quickly he was able to do this with few, swift pencil lines. He worked mainly in watercolours, and, generally speaking, works in this medium are of better quality than his oils, although some of the latter are superb. He used broad, strong brushstrokes to recreate horses, cows, poultry and people in settings where light is as important as the landscape
Atkinson was a keen supporter of the RSPCA and provided them with illustrations for their publications.
He embraced many aspects of art, teaching at Ushaw College, Durham and the Grammar School in Morpeth; he painted inn signs, particularly for villages in the Thames Valley, and during the First World War he was an artist for the Newcastle Chronicle, possibly the reason for his leaving Glaisdale.
His work hangs in public galleries in Gateshead, Middlesbrough, Newcastle, South Shields, Sunderland and Whitby. He exhibited at the Bewick Club, the Walker Gallery, Newcastle, Manchester City Art Gallery, the Royal Academy, the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, the Royal Scottish Academy, the Staithes Art Club and the Yorkshire Union of Artists. His work hangs in public galleries in Gateshead, Middlesbrough, Newcastle, South Shields, Sunderland and Whitby.
Staithes Group Centenary Exhibition, Rosamund Jordan 2003
he Artists of Northumbria, Marshall Hall, 2nd Edition, Titus Wilson & son Ltd., Kendal, 1982.
John Atkinson and the Staithes Group, Marshall Hall, Antique Collecting, Feb.1995
The Yorkshire Union of Artists 1888 - 1922, Dennis Child, Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society Ltd, Leeds 2001
The Dictionary of British Artists 1880 - 1940, J. Johnson & A. Greutzner, Antique Collectors Club, Woodbridge 1976
© Rosamund Jordan 2003