Bleak Urban Landscapes
Lowry exhibited with the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts from 1919 onwards,
and also submitted paintings to the Paris Salon. He continued to
work during the day, while painting at night between 10pm and 2am. In
all, he created almost 15,000 sketches and oil paintings during his lifetime,
many of which can be seen in the Salford Museum and Manchester City Art
Gallery. Lowry's urban cityscapes have an almost cartoon-like quality.
Examples include: An Accident (1926, City of Manchester); Coming
Out of School (1927, Tate Gallery, London); A Street Scene
(1927, Salford City Gallery); An Old Street (1937) and Industrial
Panorama (1953) - all of which make popular poster reproductions today.
Many of Lowry's paintings are not depictions of a particular place, but
rather based on recollections. He re-created, as John Rothenstein (one
time Director of the Tate Gallery) said "the bleakness, the obsolete
shabbiness, the grimy fog-boundness, the grimness of northern industrial
The Pond, Tate Gallery
Lowry was a lonely figure, who never married, opting to live with his
parents until their death. Because of the cartoon-like appearance of his
figures, he was characterised by some as a naive painter, and 'Sunday
painter'. He continued to keep his day job as much of a secret as he could,
fearing it would compromise his chance of being considered a serious artist.
Although many of his paintings record variations of his immediate surroundings,
he also painted imaginary views, such as The Pond (1950, Tate).
The Pond is a composite picture, made of smoking chimneys, a pond,
boats, animals, the Stockport Viaduct and matchstick people who swarm
through the city streets. Lowry said "I hadn't the slightest idea
of what I was going to put in the canvas when I started the picture but
it eventually came out as you see it. This is the way I like working best".
The Pond is one of his most ambitious and large-scale works.
Wealth and Fame
Lowry's first solo exhibition took place in 1939 at the Reid & Lefevre
Gallery in London, which helped to establish his reputation outside his
native North-West for the first time. His reputation now began to rise,
particularly after a TV documentary was made on him in 1957. In 1966 a
retrospective was arranged by the Arts Council at the Tate
Gallery. His paintings began to fetch serious amounts of money, which
the ever-frugal Lowry did not choose to spend. His main luxury was in
purchasing works by other artists, such as James Lawrence Isherwood (1917-89)
and the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82). He also
admired the work of the figurative artist Lucien Freud (b. 1922) and the
classical realist Belgian Surrealist Rene Magritte (18981967). By
the late 1950s Lowry's fame had grown signficantly, and he was turning
from cityscapes to landscapes and seascapes. Not comfortable with his
fame he turned down a Knighthood and other honours, although he did accept
some awards, in particular honorary doctorates from 3 universities. He
also began to paint groups of figures, or singly, usually against a white
Lowry died in 1976, and a few months after his death a retrospective exhibition
was held at the London
Royal Academy of Arts in his honour. Despite the fact that some critics
deemed his work to be that of a minor talent, exhibition attendance broke
all Academy records. His fame was compounded in 1978 when the music duo
Brian and Michael had a one-hit wonder called Matchstick Men and Matchstick
Cats and Dogs, a tribute to the artist. In 2000, the Lowry Museum
opened in Salford. It houses 55 paintings and over 270 drawings by the
artist, the largest collection of his work. In 2007, Lowry's painting
Good Friday, Daisy Nook (1946) sold for £3.2 million to the
London art dealer Richard Green. In 2009, his painting Manchester City
vs Sheffield United (1935) sold for over £500,000 at auction.
The painting had originally been bought for 30 guineas (about £31.50)
in 1945. Lowry's estate went to a school girl he befriended in 1957. After
the artist's death a significant amount of private drawings featuring
women in bondage came to public light. These works were exhibited at the
Art Council's Centenary exhibition at the Barbican, London in 1988.
One of the most popular 20th
century painters from the North of England, paintings by L.S. Lowry
now hang in some of the best art museums
in the UK.