John Atkinson Grimshaw was born 6 September 1836 in Leeds.
In 1856 he married his cousin Frances Hubbard (1835–1917).
In 1861, at the age of 24, to the dismay of his parents, John Atkinson Grimshaw left his job as a clerk for the Great Northern Railway to become a painter.
He first exhibited in 1862, mostly paintings of birds, fruit and blossom, under the patronage of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society. Atkinson Grimshaw became successful in the 1870s and rented a second home in Scarborough, which became a favourite subject.