- L. S. Lowry: A BiographyOur PickBy Shelley Rohde
- L S Lowry: A LifeOur PickBy Shelley Rohde
- A Private View of L. S. LowryOur PickBy Shelley Rohde
- L. S. Lowry: The Art and the ArtistOur PickBy T. G. Rosenthal
- LS Lowry: Conversation PiecesOur PickBy Andrew Lambirth
- LS Lowry (History Heroes)By Damian Harvey
Important Art by L. S. Lowry
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".
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.
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".
Influences and Connections
- Simeon Stafford
- Theodore Major
- Ben Kelly
- Phil George
- Liam Spencer
- Harold Riley
- Sheila Fell
- David Carr
- Mervyn Levy
- (Urban) landscape painting
- Camden School