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L. S. Lowry Photo

L. S. Lowry

English Painter

Born: November 1, 1887 - Stretford, Lancashire, England
Died: February 23, 1976 - Glossop, Derbyshire, England
Movements and Styles:
Existentialism in Modern Art
"Most of my land and townscape is composite. Made up; part real and part imaginary ... bits and pieces of my home locality. I don't even know I'm putting them in. They just crop up on their own, like things do in dreams."
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"I only deal with poverty; always with gloom. You'll never see a joyous picture of mine."
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"You don't need brains to be a painter, just feelings."
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"I am not an artist. I am a man who paints."
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"If people call me a Sunday painter, I'm a Sunday painter who paints every day of the week."
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"My ambition was to put the industrial scene on the map because nobody had seriously done it."
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"I just paint the people as I see the people in my mind's eye."
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"Accidents interest me - I have a very queer mind you know. What fascinates me is the people they attract. The patterns those people form, an atmosphere of tension when something's happened. [...] Where there's a quarrel there's always a crowd. [...] It's a great draw. A quarrel or a body."
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"I have been called a painter of Manchester workpeople. But my figures are not exactly that. They are ghostly figures, which tenant these courts and lane-ways and which seem to me so beautiful."
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"Had I not been lonely, I should not have seen what I did."
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"I wanted to paint myself into what absorbed me. Natural figures would have broken the spell of it [...] Had I drawn them as they are, it would not have looked like a vision."
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"I have no family, only my studio."
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"Were it not for my painting, I couldn't live. It helps me forget that I am alone."
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"You don't need brains to be a painter, just feelings."
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Summary of L. S. Lowry

Lowry is perhaps England's most instantly recognizable painter. He was a solitary, semi-reclusive, individual who developed a highly idiosyncratic style that features firmly drawn industrial backgrounds against which groups or crowds, painted in his signature "matchstick men" style, go about their everyday business. He is known mostly for what art historian John Rothenstein called "a kind of gloomy lyricism" but his urban vignettes, which were drawn from his home surroundings in England's industrial north, very often carried a detached but affectionate humor. Lowry is amongst that group of artists whose biography - in his case a meek mannered, mother-fixated, virgin - brings and added poignancy to their art. It was a shock to many, therefore, that on his death a series of erotic drawings emerged bringing an unexpected dimension to the life story of a man who remains today one of the English public's most beloved painters.

Accomplishments

  • Lowry is associated first and foremost with industrial scenes which were rendered in limited tones of gray and brown and reduced, or "childlike", shapes of cubes and lines. The figures that populated the majority of his works came to be known as his signature "matchstick men". The works were utterly unique, poetic yet unsentimental. His industrial scenes were also apolitical. Lowry's non-judgmental approach left left-wing critics cold but made the works fully relatable to the ordinary people they represented.
  • Critics of Lowry have suggested that his work was repetitive and that this hinted at a lack of imagination on the artist's part. But his paintings merely reflected the humdrum and clockwork comings-and-goings that marked the everyday existence of the working class northern community to which he himself belonged. He chose not to celebrate or make heroes of his subjects but rather to capture, often with humor and affection, something of the humdrum existence of the group as a whole.
  • During the 1950s, Lowry turned more and more to individual portraits. Rendered in greater detail than his "matchstick" figures, and usually set against blank backgrounds, his figures were not based on actual individuals but came rather, in Lowry's words, "from my own head". With these pieces he was trying to exorcise something of the depression and loneliness he experienced most acutely in the 1920s and 1930s and, in a rather more buoyant tone, to commemorate the lost working-class dress codes of those decades.
  • Lowry produced a series of highly uncharacteristic fetish drawings - often referred to as the "the mannequin sketches" or "marionette works" - that only came to light only after his death. Erotically charged, and often with a bondage/torture theme, the drawings, though a long way short of being pornographic, caused dismay amongst many of Lowry's followers. Rather than dent his wider reputation, however, for many these works brought an added dimension of intrigue to a mother-fixated artist who had never experienced a sexual relationship.

The Life of L. S. Lowry

L. S. Lowry Life and Legacy

"I have been called a painter of Manchester workpeople", said Lowry, one of the industrial north's most cherished sons, but "my figures are not exactly that. They are ghostly figures, which tenant these courts and lane-ways and which seem to me so beautiful".

Important Art by L. S. Lowry

Progression of Art
1922

A Manufacturing Town

When he first began painting industrial scenes, Lowry used an extremely dark color palette. In A Manufacturing Town, for instance, we see several soot-covered houses, distant factories with black billowing out of their smokestacks, and, in the far distance, the silhouette of a church. The scene is populated by several human figures, each rendered in a simplistic manner, with features that are indiscernible. This style of figure populated the majority of his works and they came to be known as his signature "matchstick men".

Lowry, who had already demonstrated his talent at realistic figure drawing in earlier years, explained, "I wanted to paint myself into what absorbed me [...] Natural figures would have broken the spell of it, so I made my figures half unreal. Some critics have said that I turned my figures into puppets, as if my aim were to hint at the hard economic necessities that drove them. To say the truth, I was not thinking very much about the people. I did not care for them in the way a social reformer does. They are part of a private beauty that haunted me. I loved them and the houses in the same way: as part of a vision".

Rachel Hidderley, senior director of Modern British & Irish Art at Christie's in London, asserts that "It's hard to think of many artists who dared take on the great industrial progress of the 20th century, let alone paint it so compellingly". Arts writer Laura Bulbeck was in agreement, writing that "Lowry is beloved by us for making the industrial scene his own. These works were created in his own unique way, poetic yet not sentimental, compelling, even at times disturbing, but never judgmental".

Oil on canvas - The Lowry, Salford, England

1939

Market Scene, Northern Town

After Manchester Guardian journalist D. B. Taylor suggested that Lowry lighten the tones and hues of his paintings, he began using stark white backgrounds for his works, marking the emergence of his mature signature style. In this work, we again see factories and churches in the background, while the foreground market scene (recognizable as Pendlebury Market, near Lowry's home) is packed with people. As art historian Rosie Rockel writes, Lowry "tried to get entire communities down on canvas". Lowry himself explained, "I like detail. I cram as many figures as I can in many of my pictures. Good value, you know, for the [person] who finally has the picture!".

One always gets the sense from his images that Lowry is an objective observer of a scene, rather than a participant in it. History and culture scholar Paul Dave considers him to be a sort of northern English flâneur, noting that, "in painting, and particularly in the French tradition, the crowd experience was mediated through a form of detachment (Baudelaire's sensation of the isolated self adrift in the crowd) in which the proximity to the stranger, a necessary and challenging aspect of the experience of modernity, was managed". Indeed, Lowry's paintings can reflect the despair and loneliness of his life and the broader social condition of northern England, (particularly during the 1930s), even when the images themselves present more convivial subject matter, such as this market scene.

Oil on canvas - The Lowry, Salford, England

1941

Houses near a Mill

As in the majority of Lowry's works, Houses near a Mill shows several houses, with mills and factories billowing black smoke from their chimneys, and streets busy with people. He also often included stray dogs in his works, likely because they were just as much a part of the urban landscape as the buildings and their inhabitants.

The repetition in Lowry's oeuvre is sometimes read as a lack of imagination or creativity (or an inability to paint anything else). However, a more sympathetic reading is that he was in fact painting a community for which life itself was repetitive. The constants and similarities amongst his works in a way reflect the humdrum daily routine of the local factory works and their family members. Moreover, the derelict buildings featured in his works reflect the general sense of poverty and drudgery that characterized life in industrial-era northern England. At the same time, however, these buildings served as a sort of psychological self-portrait of the artist. Lowry would spend hours staring at dilapidated, empty, and abandoned buildings, and once stated "I saw in those desolate buildings an image of myself".

Although he was not the first artist to paint industrial scenes, Lowry's take on the subject was unique. As cultural historian Paul Dave argues, Lowry's work focused "on a complex reality through which the material conditions of the industrial working class emerged [...] At the same time Lowry found a form for this content which was modest, not over dramatised or melodramatic but 'little', scaled to manageable, everyday dimensions and tones [...]. In other words, Lowry emphasises that ironic/humorous realist survivalism of the working class in preference to any heroic Marxist vision of a battling proletariat".

Oil on canvas - Derby Museum and Art Gallery, Derby, England

1942

Blitzed Site

During the second world war Lowry was hired as an official war painter. He produced several painting of the aftermath of the bombings. Blitzed Site is filled with the rubble of destroyed buildings, with grey smoke still visible, rising from the ashes. Later in life, he recalled that he was always the "first down in the morning to sketch the blitzed buildings before the smoke and grime had cleared". In Blitzed Site, a red building on the left-hand side still stands, emphasizing the contrast between what was and what remained. Lowry's "matchstick men" appear to be searching through the debris, while others, particularly the man at the centre of the foreground who looks directly at the viewer, appear to be in a state of shock and bewilderment.

Cultural historian Paul Dave cites critic John Rothenstein in his assertion that "Lowry's value lay in the realism with which he engaged with 'squalid disorder' of the inter-war period, and how this offset the 'drab uniformity' of planned post-war social reconstruction. This reactionary nostalgia and anti-utopianism was presented as a form of aesthetic honesty - there was not 'an iota of idealisation' in his pictures".

Oil on canvas - The Lowry, Salford, England

1953

Going to the Match

Following the war, the mood of many of Lowry's paintings shifted. Although, as art historian Rosie Rockel notes, his later works continued to contain the "oppressive sense of thick smog", serving as images of "industrial Britain in decline", at the same time, he began to shift the focus of his subject matter from monotonous labor and drudgery to leisure activities. He managed to bring to these works a "playful sense of humor" while at the same maintaining an element of melancholy. Rachel Hidderley, senior director of Modern British & Irish Art at Christie's in London, notes that in Lowry's post-war works, "There are still the incredible crowds, but now these people are increasingly at play, not work". Here they are shown as groups of people heading towards the football stadium at Burnden Park in Bolton. Similar post-war Lowry works that focus explicitly on pleasure and leisure include The Football Match (1949), and Fun Fair at Daisy Nook (1953).

Welsh artist, writer, and friend of Lowry, Mervyn Levy, argued that in many of Lowry's works, particularly Going to the Match, what interested the artist most was not the individual figures so much as "the masses of people [the] rhythms they made against the background of streets and buildings, mills and factories". Likewise, media, communication, and culture scholar Zoë Thompson suggests that "The theme of the crowd is apparent but in particular it is the architecture of the crowd that appears to have fascinated Lowry: their clockwork precision, their strategic comings and goings, the order in the rabble, the symmetry of the everyday. Going to the Match evidences Lowry's command of the urban crowd and its formations". Lowry would have endorsed these readings: "All my people are lonely", he said, "and crowds are the most lonely thing of all".

Oil on canvas - The Lowry, Salford, England

1953

A Couple Crossing the Road

In the 1950s, Lowry began to focus many of his works on individual human figures, rendered in more detail than his signature "matchstick men", and set against blank white backgrounds; extracted from their everyday milieu and somehow suspended in time and space. Other works executed in a similar style included images of single individuals of downtrodden appearance, and "tramps". Said, Lowry, "These folks affect me in a method that the industrial scene by no means did. They are actual individuals, unhappy people. Sadness attracts me, and there are some very unhappy things. similar feelings in myself".

That having been said, and while he claimed to restrict his palette to just five colours - vermilion, ivory black, Prussian blue, yellow ochre and flake white - there is a notable shift in Lowry's post-war art with a definite lifting in mood. The younger figure here on the left, for instance, stares at the viewer with a smiling face. Lowry once explained that the people in his portraits are rarely based on real people, but instead come from his own head. When asked why the figures in his paintings were still dressed in "old-fashioned" clothing, he responded "That's because my real period was the Depression age of the twenties and thirties. My interest in people is rooted there. I like the shape of the caps. I like the working-class bowler hats, the big boots and shawls".

Oil on canvas - The Whitworth, Manchester, England

undated, probably 1972-74

Untitled

This work is one of a series of private, uncharacteristic drawings - often referred to as the "the mannequin sketches" or "marionette works" - that Lowry is believed to have executed around the late 1960s or early 1970s, which he kept hidden. In fact they were undiscovered until 1976, shortly after his death. The drawings were erotically charged, and at times, even violent, featuring the mysterious "Ann" character who appeared in other portraits he painted throughout the 1950s. However, in the mannequin sketches, Ann appears more like a doll or ballerina (with some adopting typical ballet poses), often wearing revealing and tight-fitting tops and miniskirts or tutus, and frequently enduring humiliating forms of torture.

Journalist and author Angela Levin writes of this series that, "Although by no means pornographic, the sexual edge is clear. To many Lowry fans they will be downright disturbing. They suggest a new, somewhat unsettling dimension to his relationship with women," including his oppressive and demanding mother, as well as his close young female friend, and inheritor of his estate (including this series), Carol Ann Lowry. When this series was first put on display at the Art Council's Centenary exhibition at the Barbican in 1988, art critic Richard Dorment wrote that the drawings "reveal a sexual anxiety which is never so much as hinted at in the work of the previous 60 years". Michael Simpson, the head of galleries at The Lowry art gallery, believes that Lowry was also influenced by the fashion trends of the moment, noting that "It was a time when young women in miniskirts were occupying the High Street and Lowry, by then well into his 80s, was obviously fascinated by what he saw".

The Lowry, Salford, England

1963

The Sea

Lowry was as inspired by the coast just as he was by his industrial surroundings: "Some people like to go to the theatre, some like to watch television. I just like watching ships", he once said. His seascapes were originally inspired by a trip to Anglesey, Wales which he took shortly after his mother's death. He said of those paintings, "Look at my seascapes, they don't really exist you know, they're just an expression of my own loneliness".

Writer and Curator Anna McNay, writes that it was not ships that attracted Lowry to the northern English coast so much as "the open expanse of the North Sea". He said "It's the battle of life - the turbulence of the sea. I have been fond of the sea all my life, how wonderful it is, yet how terrible it is. [...] It's all there. It's all in the sea. The Battle of Life is there. And Fate. And the inevitability of it all. And the purpose." In the final decades of his life, Lowry frequently took holidays at the Seaburn Hotel in Sunderland, where he painted a series of seascapes (this work presents the view from Lowry's hotel room). While some of these pieces presented beach scenes populated by people on vacation, the majority, including The Sea and Grey Sea (1964), depict, as Hidderley, writes, "expanses of water and sky, separated only by the horizon line, [that] are so empty they border on abstraction".

Lowry once said of his attraction to the coast: "It's the battle of life - the turbulence of the sea [...] I have been fond of the sea all my life, how wonderful it is, yet how terrible it is. But I often think [...] what if it suddenly changed its mind and didn't turn the tide? And came straight on? [...] The Battle of Life is there. And Fate. And the inevitability of it all". McNay suggests that "At the age of 88 [the year before his death] Lowry professed to 'never [having] had a woman'. He spent his life, it would seem, waiting: waiting for love, waiting for companionship, waiting, ultimately, for death. Perhaps [The Sea and others like it] sheds new light on the overcrowding of his peopled scenes - after all, one is never as lonely as when in a crowd".

Oil on canvas - The Lowry, Salford, England


Biography of L. S. Lowry

Childhood and Youth

Laurence Stephen Lowry was the only child born to Robert and Elizabeth Lowry. Robert was an estate agent; Elizabeth a schoolteacher, and budding concert pianist. Lowry later said of his father that he was a "cold fish [...] a queer chap in many ways [...] nothing moved him. Nothing upset him. Nothing pleased him. It was as if he had got a life to get through and he got through it". Lowry's mother, who had set her heart on a daughter rather than a "clumsy boy", even dressed her toddler son in white frocks. Childbirth had been extremely difficult for Elizabeth. It left her so physically and emotionally damaged she was unable to continue her work as a teacher and also lost interest in her piano practice. Though this left her embittered and cantankerous, Lowry remained a devoted son who lived with (and cared for) his mother until her death. While she could be a very cruel woman, Lowry refused to speak ill of her: "My mother was an altogether different kind of person. And she had a wonderful eye for beautiful things [...] Unfortunately, she did not really understand my paintings, but she understood me in her curious way and I can't ask for more than that".

Given his upbringing, it is little surprise that Lowry was a reserved child, with few friends and an underachiever at school. One anecdote tells of how he would hide behind his mother's skirts when she played piano at his Sunday school each week. Elizabeth Lowry was also opposed to the idea that her son might pursue a career as an artist, wishing for him a more conventional working life in business. Lowry nevertheless began taking recreational art lessons with his uncle Tom who was himself a failed Royal Academy student. On seeing his doodles and his drawing of "little ships on the sea" his aunt suggested that he might consider some more formal training by attending art classes. Lowry recalled, "I'd nothing against the idea and I was willing to try anything rather than take the usual humdrum job".

Education and Early Career

Given his poor school record, Lowry's parents willingly paid for their son to attend evening art classes to help him foster his only hobby. There were no thoughts of Lowry becoming a professional painter, however, and he began full-time work as a trainee clerk at a local accounting firm. Nevertheless, Lowry joined an evening class at the Manchester School of Art in earnest in 1905 where he studied life drawing under French Impressionist painter Pierre Adolphe Valette. He recalled, "I cannot over-estimate the effect on me of the coming into this drab city of Adolphe Valette, full of French impressionists, aware of everything that was going on in Paris". The Lowry family were living in the middle-class Manchester suburb of Victoria Park. But, in 1909, due to financial difficulties brought on by Robert Lowry's redundancy, they moved to the less prosperous area of Pendlebury. Curator Helena Roy wrote, "Lowry enjoyed an affluent childhood, but his family experienced a distinct drop in social standing resulting in [their] move to the industrial suburb of Pendlebury. His reaction to his surroundings went from loathing to obsession". She suggests, in fact, that the emotional distance he kept from his subjects could be put down to a "solid Lancashire Conservativism" that perhaps reflected his initial "discomfort with his ambiguous social class".

Now in his early twenties, Lowry began work as a rent collector for the Pall Mall Property Company. According to doctors O'Connell and Fitzgerald (who published a joint paper on the observation that Lowry displayed symptoms of Asperger's) "He was frequently noted to be clumsy, with ill-fitting clothes and an odd appearance. While working as a rent collector, local groups of children often mimicked his unusual gait and posture and made fun of him".

Dwelling, Ordsall Lane, Salford (1927)

Lowry knew that he was under no time constraints to collect rent, so long as he didn't pocket any of the money for himself. Although he studied periodically at the Royal Technical Institute of Salford (between 1915 and 1925) Lowry honed his style mostly by sketching street scenes as he carried out his day-to-day work duties. His moment of epiphany came one day having just missed a train connection. He recalled, "I saw the Acme Company's spinning mill: the huge, black framework of rows of yellow-lit windows [...] against the sad, damp-charged, afternoon sky. The mill was turning out hundreds of little, pinched figures, heads bent down [...] I watched this scene - which I'd looked at many times without seeing - with rapture".

Mature Period

Lowry began to wonder to himself whether other artists had painted these dour industrial scenes before and, after some investigation, concluded that the "grey and depressing" subject matter meant that only "such a damn fool [as] himself" would be drawn to the topic of Northern Industrialism (and not least "because there's no money in it"). Lowry committed to paint nothing but industrial/urban landscapes. His earliest oil works used a very dark and somber color palette. However, Manchester Guardian journalist D. B. Taylor, one of the few commentators to have taken an interest in Lowry at this time, suggested that he try bringing some light to his "dingy" paintings. On Taylor's advice, Lowry altered his style, often using stark white backgrounds, and eliminating shadows altogether. It would prove to be the beginnings of an upturn in Lowry's painting career. He said later of this period, "Occasionally, I would sell a painting just when I was literally fed-up and all hope was gone. I've never been married [...] and so I shared my joys and sorrows with my parents [...] Oh, you should have seen the excitement when I sold a picture. My parents were so happy even if they didn't really understand my work".

Lowry's father passed away from pneumonia in 1932. He left behind sizable debts and also the task of caring for his mostly bedridden mother, who suffered from neurosis and depression. Lowry's mother became physically and emotionally dependent on her son who found time to paint (largely from memory) only after she had fallen asleep. According to O'Connell and Fitzgerald, "Lowry painted late into the night after his day's work at the office and disliked it when this routine was interrupted". They added that "When asked about the fact that he never married, he replied: 'I was obsessed with painting; I couldn't have gone on as I did and been fair to a wife. When I painted seriously I painted not from ten till four, you know, but from ten till about twelve or two o'clock in the morning. You couldn't do that to be fair to the wife'".

Lowry exhibited works in galleries in Canada, France, and Northern England and held his first one-man exhibition, at the Reid and Lefevre Gallery in London in 1939. Although the Lefevre exhibition significantly increased Lowry's profile - he had by now sold some sixty pieces in total with one being bought by The Tate Gallery - many were less than enthusiastic about his urban landscapes. One critic wrote in the Apollo art magazine that Lowry was "a self-taught painter, a Sunday painter, a primitive," while a critic for The Spectator wrote "I resent the Lowry automaton so fiercely and I am inclined to think that some part of (his) convention rises out of his ability to draw the human figure". Likewise, a critic wrote in The Times that although they found Lowry's work to be original, it was also "narrow and repetitive, with the human figures appearing like insects". Lowry's response to such criticism was rather indifferent: "Let people have their opinions. If they don't like my work, they don't".

In 1938, his mother's health in irreversible decline, Lowry produced a small number of what are known as his despairingly expressionistic "red-eye" portraits. In October 1939, just as he was starting to gain serious recognition, his beloved mother passed away. Lowry was so devasted at his loss (to which the "red-eye" portraits attest) he contemplated suicide. He said at the time, "I have no family, only my studio, Were it not for my painting, I couldn't live. It helps me forget that I am alone".

At the outbreak of World War Two, Lowry volunteered as a fire watcher patrolling the rooftops of department stores in Manchester before, in 1943, becoming an official war artist. By the end of the war he was starting to receive serious recognition and accepted an honorary Master of Arts degree from the University of Manchester in 1945. In the wake of his mother's death, Lowry had neglected the upkeep of the family home, which was finally repossessed by the landlord in 1948. By this point, however, Lowry was financially secure and had earned enough from sales of his paintings to purchase a property known as "The Elms" in the leafy district of Mottram in Longdendale. He was able to set up a studio in the house but found himself less than enamored with his new surroundings: "It does nothing for me. I know there's plenty to paint here but I haven't the slightest desire to work locally" he said. His new-found wealth meant that he was able to start collecting works by artists he admired, most notably the Pre-Raphaelite, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Lowry, who said of the artist, "there is no one like Rossetti, his pictures are quite wonderful", even started a "Rossetti Society" for which he acted as president.

In 1952 income from his art was enough he was able to resign from the Pall Mall Property Company and, in 1953, he accepted the role of Official Artist at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Although still somewhat reclusive, he did start to build and maintain a number of important artistic friendships, including Harold Riley (a painter from Salford known for his works that focus on sporting events), and the Cumberland artist Sheila Fell, who he met in November 1955, and called "the finest landscape artist of the mid-20th century". Indeed, he supported Fell's career by purchasing a number of her paintings, which he then donated to local museums.

By 1955 Lowry's standing had risen to such a degree he was elected as an Associate Member of the Royal Academy of Arts, and a full Royal Academician in 1962. Already an honorary Doctor of Letters at the University of Manchester (awarded in 1961), he received the same accolade from the Universities of Salford and Liverpool (both in 1975) and served as a visiting tutor at the prestigious Slade School of Fine Art. However, Lowry also holds some kind of record for the most honors declined, including an appointment to the Order of the British Empire twice (in 1961 and 1965), a knighthood in 1968, and appointments to the Order of the Companions of Honor twice (in 1972 and 1976). Explaining his decision to decline this national recognition he said "There seemed little point, once mother was dead" and explained to the British Prime Minster, Harold Wilson, "All my life I have felt most strongly against social distinction of any kind".

Late Period and Death

'Matchstick man and his dog' sculpture by WEC Group Ltd in Darwen (2015).  Sculpture erected near Knott End-on-Sea, Lancashire, Great Britain

In 1966, Lowry said in an interview "I do and I don't enjoy the life of a recluse [...] I'm getting no younger. I'm fed-up to tell the truth. I feel really that I've done the job I set out to do of putting the industrial scene on the map as best I can. Now I want to get out of it. I should have got out of it in 1948, but people wouldn't let me - 'You must paint more pictures.' I was a damn fool to listen [...] I've never searched for all this so-called success. There's no money in painting - the tax-man takes it all".

In the final years of his life, Lowry regularly frequented local football matches as a fan of Manchester City (Lowry's ties to the club were acknowledged in 2016 when the club's owners gifted an unspecified artwork by Lowry to their outgoing Head Coach, Manuel Pellegrini) and took annual holidays to the Seaburn Hotel in Sunderland, where he painted beach and port scenes, as well as scenes of nearby coal mines. Many of these pieces were executed in pencil or charcoal on napkins or scrap paper, and then gifted to passers-by, who had no idea that these drawings would soon be of value. He also produced his series of uncharacteristic fetishistic works, known as "the Mannequin Sketches" or "Marionette Works", which remained hidden from the public until shortly after his death. The art critic Philip Hensher suggested that once they came to light "the new pictures actually enhance[d] Lowry's reputation".

Carol Ann Lowry (no relation), was a thirteen year-old girl who, prompted by her mother, had written to Lowry in 1957 asking for advice on how to become an artist. Some months later, Lowry himself announced himself unexpectedly at Carol Ann's home in Heywood, Lancashire. Lowry took young Carol Ann under his wing, taking her to galleries, restaurants, on seaside vacations, and even paid for her convent education and art classes at Rochdale College of Art. She later described him as "wise, fascinating and interesting" and referred to him affectionately as "Uncle Laurie". Carol Ann said in an interview many years later that she could not "help but feel it was fate that brought us together, that enabled each of us to fulfil a need in the other". She added that "Very much later, when I was grown up, people put it into my head that he might have felt differently towards me, as a man feels towards a woman, but I absolutely cannot believe it to have been so. I don't think there was ever a physical thing for him, with any Woman". Lowry continued to correspond with Carol even after her marriage (although he didn't attend the wedding).

Lowry died of pneumonia at the Woods Hospital in Glossop, Derbyshire in 1976, not long after a stroke he had suffered in his own home. He was buried in a plot next to his parents in the Southern Cemetery in Manchester. At the time of his death, Lowry's estate was valued at just under £300,000, which he bequeathed, together with a large number of paintings and drawings - including some by Rossetti - to Carol Ann Lowry.

The Legacy of L. S. Lowry

In 1976, shortly after his death, a career retrospective of Lowry's work was staged at the Royal Academy. It drew more than 350,000 visitors; an all-time attendance record for a twentieth century artist at the Academy. The exhibition divided critics, however. Some praised him as a significant artist with a unique vision; others dismissing him as solely a social commentator. What is not in doubt is that Lowry has achieved great popularity with the British public. As Chris Stephens, head of display at Tate Britain, put it, "Lowry is a victim of his fan base. The same qualities that make him popular are those that cause him to be less seriously celebrated by the artistic establishment".

The most comprehensive collection of the artist's work is housed at The Lowry, a purpose built glass and steel arts centre that opened on the old docks of Manchester's Salford Quays in April 2000.

Whatever the critical reservations, there can be no disputing the fact that Lowry has entered the hearts and minds of the British public. Lowry's appeal was confirmed shortly after his death when a pop song dedicated to his memory, Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs (Lowry's Song) (written and performed by the folk duo Brian and Michael) reached No. 1 in the music charts, where it reigned for three weeks. In 1987, to mark the centenary of Lowry's birth, the City of Salford and the BBC jointly commissioned a dance performance, titled A Simple Man. Aired by the BBC in 1988, it won the BAFTA (British Association of Film and Television Art) award for the best arts program of 1988. In 2000, a dedicated Lowry art gallery opened in Salford Quays, and is home now to over fifty of his paintings and close to three hundred drawings. The feature film Mrs. Lowry and Son followed in 2019 to fine critical notices. The film explored the central relationship in Lowry's life with the mother who he always thought he had failed as a son. And it was this lifetime of loneliness, regret and solitude that has helped breath added pathos into his vision of industrial northern England.

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
L. S. Lowry
Influenced by Artist
Friends & Personal Connections
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    Harold Riley
  • No image available
    Sheila Fell
  • No image available
    David Carr
  • No image available
    Mervyn Levy
Artists
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    Simeon Stafford
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    Theodore Major
  • No image available
    Ben Kelly
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    Phil George
  • No image available
    Liam Spencer
Friends & Personal Connections
  • No image available
    Harold Riley
  • No image available
    Sheila Fell
  • No image available
    David Carr
  • No image available
    Mervyn Levy
Movements & Ideas
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    (Urban) landscape painting
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    Camden School
Open Influences
Close Influences

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Content compiled and written by Alexandra Duncan

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Antony Todd

"L. S. Lowry Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Alexandra Duncan
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Antony Todd
Available from:
First published on 09 Jul 2021. Updated and modified regularly
[Accessed ]
The Art Story
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