The Secret Genius of L S Lowry

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

L S Lowry was a loner and an understated artist. Very little is known about his personal life, yet his work has stood the test of time. A great artist portraying Northern life in all its bleakness during The Industrial Revelution.

Laurence Stephen Lowry was born in Old Trafford, Manchester, in 1887. An industrial landscape in the North of England, where cotton mills, rows of back to back terraces, tapering chimneys and bleakness were the sights of his youth. although eventually to be replaced by towering office blocks, modern housing and vibrancy, these images of his youth stayed with him. His art featuring matchstalk men in flat caps and cats and dogs roaming the streets, portrayed a lifelong tribute to the Industrial Revolution. Lowry was the only child of middle class parents. His father worked as a clerk in an estate agents and his mother was an accomplished pianist, indeed, Lowry inherited from her, his lifelong passion for music.  When Lowry showed an interest in drawing, daytime sessions at the Manchester Municipal Art School were deemed to be too expensive and so he had to be contented with evening classes, five nights a week, after work instead.  Upon leaving school at aged 15 Lowry earned a living as a clerk in an accountant's office before transferring in 1910 to the Pall Mall Property Company where he worked firstly as a rent collector and clerk, before rising to Chief Cashier until he retired in 1952. Thus, Lowry's full time job meant that he was only able to paint in the evenings and at weekends and so it took considerable time to develop a personal style of his own.

 

In 1909, the Lowry family moved to Pendlebury. Though their home was an ample, semi-detached, the move marked a distinct fall in their social standing as this was a lower class industrial suburb, much further away from the city, where both father and son worked. However, Lowry grew to like the place with its industrial scenes of mills and mill workers and his vision of the industrial scene grew slowly over a period of 15 years. Much of Lowry's work was composed either from memory or from brief notes he made whilst on his journeys as a rent collector or from walks he used to regularly take each saturday night from Pendlebury to Bolton. He chose saturday nights as this was when the most activity occurred on the streets.

 

Although artistically active, Lowry had trouble establishing himself as an artist , although he was a well known figure in Manchester. The 1920s saw his art in keeping with the times. He changed his style due to feeling that he had been rejected by the art world and so chose to abandon art that would appeal to aesthetics in favour of exploration of the popular. Due to the war the 1930s was a demanding time for many artists and Lowry was no exception. However, after the war his art gained momentum once again and in 1939 he was given his first one man exhibition. The venture was a great success and 16 paintings were sold, including one to the Tate. In 1948 Lowry left Pendlebury and moved to Mottram – in- Longendale, a bleak village, near Glossop. He hated the place but by 1950, it resulted in a renewed burst of activity where he painted very large canvases and as his self confidence returned, he opted for a freer, more spontaneous style of work.

 

L. S. Lowry is in a strange position. He has achieved a unique popularity with the general public, while to many in the art world his work appears crude and vulgar, easily accessible and out right commercial. Lowry is not of the mainstream, he spurned working in London, choosing instead to stay in Manchester where his work was not greatly received. Lowry was a fully trained artist who spurned any advice from his peers, preferring instead to let his artistic ability be judged by public opinion. Lowry wanted more than anything to be known as an artist, for his paintings to survive the test of time. Early commentators on him tended to focus on his personality, rather than artistic achievement, portraying him as a lonely figure, however, Lowry was at pains to emphasise his isolation as an artist, ratther than as a man. In short, Lowry was not lonely, but 'a loner', he chose to alienate himself and detach himself from life, preferring to immerse himself in his art.

 

As well as art, Lowry had another passion, that of the theatre. On saturday afternoons when it was too wet for painting he would go to see a play or visit a music hall. Although this opened his eyes to the richness of the industrial life around him, this never influenced his subject matter in any way. His style remained a mixture of impressionist and bold, spontaneous brush strokes. It could be suggested that Lowry's art is very much the 'art of the public place'. His art shows nothing of the inside of a mill or the mill hand at work. Everything in his work can be viewed by the passer by, by 'outsiders' like Lowry himself. Walking, looking and working at home became a regular way of life for Lowry. To this end, Lowry was a secretive person and little is known of his personal life.  He liked art that exhibited an independent life of its own, he stated that he painted nothing but doom, but claimed that life always springs back to life no matter how tough the battle.  He died of pneumonia in 1976, The Lowry Centre in Salford houses about 400 of his works. During his illustrious life Lowry made about 1,000 paintings and over 8,000 drawings.
 

 

References


Hudson, M (2013) L S Lowry: There's More To Him Than MatchStick Men. The Telegrapgh http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-features/10111183/LS-Lowry-theres-more-to-him-than-matchstick-men.html  Accessed February 2015

Spalding, J (1979) Lowry. Oxford: Phaidon Press Ltd.

The Lowry (2015) L S Lowry :His Life and Career. http://www.thelowry.com/ls-lowry/his-life-and-work/ Accessed February 2015

The Lowry (2015) L S Lowry: The L S Lowry Collection. http://www.thelowry.com/ls-lowry/the-ls-lowry-collection/ Accessed February 2015

The Lowry (2015) L S Lowry: Photographs of L S Lowry. http://www.thelowry.com/ls-lowry/photographs-of-ls-lowry/ Accessed February 2015


Submitted: February 18, 2015

© Copyright 2022 Val Mansell. All rights reserved.

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