L.S. Lowry
Biography of English Landscape & Genre Painter.
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Coming From the Mill (1930)
Salford Museum & Art Gallery. One of
Lowry's great 20th century paintings.

POSTERS OF LS LOWRY
Paintings by L.S.Lowry
are widely available online
in the form of poster art.

L.S. Lowry (1887-1976)

One of the best-known artistic figures in contemporary British painting, the Manchester artist L.S. (Laurence Stephen) Lowry was born and lived all his life in Northern England. Until his retirement at the age of 65, he worked full time as a clerk, and did most of his painting at night. He studied intermittently at various art schools and was influenced by the Camden Town Group. Lowry's signature idiom is genre-painting or urban landscape, notably pictures of 'matchstick' figures drawn against industrial buildings, often bathed in white smog. (For more about this "primitive" style of art, see Primitivism.) There are traces of humour in Lowry's works, but they are generally considered to be gloomy, highlighting the alienation and robotic character of industrial life. In addition, he painted a number of portraits, and turned later in life to landscapes and seascapes. His first major exhibition was held in London in 1939 after which his fame grew steadily. Although many 'experts' in fine art claim Lowry is a minor talent albeit one who provides an entertaining social commentary, he struck a chord with the general public, who continue to see him as one of the best English painters.

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WORLDS TOP ARTISTS
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Best Artists of All Time.
For the greatest view painters, see:
Best Landcape Artists.
For the greatest genre-painting, see:
Best Genre Painters.

MODERN ARTISTS
For a list of painters like
LS Lowry, see: Modern Artists.

WORLD'S BEST ART
For a list of the best examples of
Fine Art Painting, by the
world's top artists, see:
Oil Painting.

WHAT IS ART?
For an explanation
, see:
Art Definition, Meaning.

Early Art Training

L.S. Lowry was born in Stretford, Lancashire in 1887. His mother was by his own accounts, disappointed by the birth of her son, preferring to have given birth to a girl. His father, was a 'cold fish', the sort of man who 'realised he had a life to live and did his best to get through it. Lowry showed an early aptitude for art, and on leaving school received a number of private lessons in drawing. In 1905 he secured a place at the Manchester School of Art, where he came under the influence of his teacher the French Impressionist Adolphe Valette (1876-1942). Valette taught his students new techniques in urban landscape painting, emphasising hazy atmospheres. Lowry too was to focus on cityscapes, but his style was more in keeping with some genre painters of the Camden Town Group (English Post-Impressionist painters who were active between 1911-13, including Walter Sickert, Harold Gilman, Charles Ginner Spencer, Frederick Gore and Duncan Grant). Later, in 1925, Lowry studied for a period at the Salford School of Art.

 

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 England".


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 (1898–1967). 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 background.

Legacy

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.

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