Laurence Stephen Lowry (1 November 1887 – 23 February 1976) was an English artist born on Barrett Street, Stretford, Lancashire. Stretford is now in the borough of Trafford, in Greater Manchester. Many of his drawings and paintings depict nearby Salford and surrounding areas, including Pendlebury where he lived and worked for over forty years at 117 Station Road, opposite St. Mark's RC Church.
Lowry is famous for painting scenes of life in the industrial districts of northern England during the early 20th century. He had a distinctive style of painting and is best known for urban landscapes peopled with many human figures (matchstick men). He tended to paint these in drab colours. He also painted mysterious unpopulated landscapes, brooding portraits, and the secret 'marionette' works (the latter only found after his death).
Because of his use of stylised figures and the lack of weather effects in many of his landscapes he is sometimes characterised as a naïve 'Sunday painter' although this is not the position of the galleries that have organised retrospectives of his works.
A large collection of Lowry's work is on permanent public display in a purpose built art gallery on Salford Quays, appropriately named, The Lowry.
His family called him 'Laurie'. It was a difficult birth and his mother Elizabeth, who had been hoping for a girl, was uncomfortable even looking at him at first. Later she expressed her envy of her sister Mary, who had "three splendid daughters" instead of one "clumsy boy". Lowry's father Robert, a clerk for the Jacob Earnshaw and Son Property Company, was a withdrawn and introverted man who Lowry once described as "a cold fish" and "[the sort of man who] realised he had a life to live and did his best to get through it."
After Lowry's birth his mother's health was too poor for her to continue teaching. She is reported to have been gifted and respected, with aspirations of becoming a concert pianist. She was an irritable, nervous woman who had been brought up to expect high standards by her stern father. Like him she was controlling and intolerant of failure. She used illness as a means of securing the attention and obedience of her mild and affectionate husband and she dominated her son in the same way. Lowry often maintained in interviews conducted later in his life that he had an unhappy childhood, growing up in a repressive family atmosphere. Although it is true his mother demonstrated no appreciation of her son's gifts as an artist, a number of books Lowry received as Christmas presents from his parents are inscribed to "Our dearest Laurie." At school he made few friends and showed no academic aptitude. His father was affectionate towards him but was, by all accounts, a quiet man who was at his most comfortable fading into the background as an unobtrusive presence.
After leaving school, Lowry signed himself up for private art lessons under local artist Reginald Barber. In 1905 he managed to secure a place at the Manchester Municipal College of Art, where he studied under the French Impressionist artist Adolphe Valette.In 1915 he 'graduated' to the Salford School of Art where he was to continue studying until 1925. Here, he developed his interest in industrial landscapes and began to establish his style.
Death of his mother
His father died in 1932, leaving debts. His mother was subject to neurosis and depression, and became bedridden. Lowry's mother had always been a very important figure in his life and now he had to care for her. He painted from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., after his mother had fallen asleep. Many of the paintings produced during this period were damning self-portraits (often referred to as the 'Horrible Heads' series), which demonstrate the influence of Expressionism
and may have been inspired by an exhibition of Van Gogh
's work Lowry saw at Manchester Art Gallery
in 1931. He frequently expressed regret that he received little recognition as an artist until the year that his mother died and that she had never been able to enjoy his success. From the mid-1930s until at least 1939 Lowry took annual holidays at Berwick-upon-Tweed
. With the outbreak of war Lowry served as a volunteer fire watcher in Manchester and accepted an invitation to become a war artist, eventually becoming an official War Artist
in 1943. In 1953 he was appointed Official Artist at the coronation
of Elizabeth II
With the death of his mother in October 1939, Lowry became depressed and neglected the upkeep of his house to such a degree that the landlord repossessed it in 1948. He was not short of money and bought "The Elms" in Mottram in Longdendale, Hyde, Cheshire. Although he considered the house ugly and uncomfortable, he stayed there until his death almost thirty years later.
In later life, starting in the 1950s, Lowry would often spend holidays at the Seaburn Hotel at Seaburn
, County Durham
, painting scenes of the beach, as well as nearby ports and coal mines. It is believed that the sea air appealed to him, as well as the industrial scenes that were very different from the cotton mills
of Lancashire. Lowry is remembered in the city as a kindly old man, always wrapped up in his 'mac' even at the height of summer, who kept himself to himself.
When he had no sketchbook with him, Lowry would often draw scenes in pencil or charcoal on the back of scrap paper such as envelopes, serviettes, and cloakroom tickets and present them to young people sitting with their families nearby. Such serendipitous pieces are now worth thousands of pounds; a serviette sketch can be seen at the Sunderland Mariott Hotel (formerly the Seaburn Hotel).
He was a secretive and mischievous man who enjoyed stories irrespective of their truth. His friends have observed that his anecdotes were more notable for their humour than their accuracy and in many cases he set out deliberately to deceive. His stories of the fictional Ann were inconsistent and he invented other people as frameworks upon which to hang his tales. The collection of clocks in his living room were all set at different times: to some people he said that this was because he did not want to know the real time; to others he claimed that it was to save him from being deafened by their simultaneous chimes.
The contradictions in his life are exacerbated by this confusion. He is widely seen as a shy man but he had many long-lasting friendships including the Salford artist Harold Riley and made new friends throughout his adult life. He often bought works from young artists he admired, such as James Lawrence Isherwood whose 'Woman with Black Cat', hung on his studio wall. . He kept on going friendships with some of these artists. He was contrary and could be selfish but he was generous and concerned for the well-being of his friends and of strangers. It may be as Sheila Fell has said: "He was a great humanist. To be a humanist, one has first to love human beings, and to be a great humanist, one has to be slightly detached from them."
In later life he grew tired of being approached by strangers on account of his celebrity and he particularly disliked being visited at home in this way. Another of his unverifiable stories had him keeping a suitcase by the front door so that he could claim to be just leaving, a practice he claimed to have abandoned after a helpful young man insisted on taking him to the railway station and had to be sent off to buy a paper so that Lowry could buy a ticket for just one stop without revealing his deceit. However, he was unfailingly polite to the residents of Mottram, who respected him and his privacy; he used the bus to get about the area in his retirement. A bronze statue of him has recently been erected at the traffic lights in that village.
Lowry was a supporter of Manchester City Football Club.
Lowry retired from the Pall Mall
Property Company in 1952 on his 65th birthday (McLean, 1978). During his career he had risen to become chief cashier but he never stopped collecting rents. The firm had supported his development as an artist and he was allowed time off for exhibitions in addition to his normal holiday allowance. It seems, however, that he was not proud of his job; his secrecy about his employment by the Pall Mall Property Company is widely seen as a desire to present himself as a serious artist but the secrecy extended beyond the art world into his social circle.
Margery Thompson first met him when she was a schoolgirl and he became part of her family circle. He attended concerts with her family and friends, visited her home and entertained her at his Pendlebury home where he shared his knowledge of painting. They remained friends until his death but he never told her that he had any work except his art.
In the 1950s he regularly visited friends at Cleator Moor, Cumberland (where Geoffrey Bennett was the manager at the National Westminster Bank) and Southampton (where Margery Thompson had moved upon her marriage). Lowry painted pictures of the bank in Cleator Moor, Southampton Floating Bridge and other scenes local to his friends' homes.
He befriended the 23-year-old Cumbrian artist Sheila Fell in November 1955 and supported her career by buying several pictures that he gave to museums. In 1957 an unrelated thirteen-year-old schoolgirl called Carol Ann Lowry wrote to Lowry at her mother's urging to ask his advice on becoming an artist. He visited her home in Heywood, Lancashire some months later, and befriended the family. His friendship with Carol Ann Lowry was to last the rest of his life.
Death and legacy
He died of pneumonia at The Woods Hospital in Glossop, Derbyshire on 23 February 1976 aged 88. He was buried in Chorlton's Southern Cemetery in Manchester, next to his parents. He left his estate, valued at £298,459, together with a considerable number of artworks by himself and others to Carol Ann Lowry, who, in 2001, obtained trademark protection of the artist's signature.
Lowry left a cultural legacy, with his works often selling for millions of pounds and even inspiring other works of art. The Lowry in Salford Quays was opened in 2000 and cost £106M; as well as being named after L. S. Lowry, the gallery houses 55 paintings and 278 drawings by the artist – the world's largest collection of his work – with up to 100 on display. In January 2005, a statue of Lowry was unveiled in Mottram in Longdendale, Greater Manchester. Lowry lived 100 yards away from where the statue stands in a linked detached property, "The Elms", in Stalybridge Road from 1948 up until his death in 1976. Unfortunately this has become a target for local vandals with the statue being vandalised several times since being unveiled. In 2006 the Lowry Centre in Salford hosted a contemporary dance performance inspired by the works of Lowry.
Lowry was awarded an honorary Master of Arts postgraduat, Master of Arts from the University of Manchester in 1945, and Doctor of Letters in 1961, and given freedom of the city of Salford in 1965.
In 1975 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of Salford and the same degree by the University of Liverpool. In 1964, the art world celebrated his 77th birthday with an exhibition of his work and that of 25 contemporary artists who had submitted tributes to Monk's Hall Museum, Eccles. The Hallé Orchestra also performed a concert in his honour and prime minister Harold Wilson used Lowry's painting The Pond
as his official Christmas card. Lowry's painting Coming out of School
was the stamp of highest denomination in a series issued by the Post Office depicting great British artists in 1968.
Lowry declined an 'Order of the British Empire'(OBE) in 1955, a 'CBE' in 1961, 'knighthood' in 1968, and 'Order of the Companions of Honour' (CH) in 1972 and 1976. He holds the record for the most honours declined.
During his life Lowry made about 1000 paintings and over 8000 drawings. The lists here are some of those that are considered to be particularly significant.
Stolen Lowry works
Five Lowry art works were stolen from The Grove Fine Art Gallery in Cheadle Hulme, Greater Manchester on 2 May 2007. The most valuable were The Viaduct, estimated value of £700,000 and The Tanker Entering the Tyne, which is valued at over £500,000. The Surgery, The Bridge at Ringley and The Street Market were also stolen (Grove Fine Art Gallery 2007 website).
- 1906 Still Life — a bowl of fruit for the first evening classes
- 1912 Portrait of the Artist's Mother
- 1910 Clifton Junction Morning
- 1917 Coming from the Mill — early example of what has become known as the Lowry style
- 1919 Frank Jopling Fletcher — portrait demonstrating that Lowry's stylisation was a choice and not a consequence of any lack of skill
- 1922 A Manufacturing Town — archetypal Lowry industrial landscape
- 1922 Regent Street, Lytham — pastoral scene in sharp contrast to A Manufacturing Town
- 1925 Self Portrait — a large-nosed young man (he would have been 38 years old) in a large flat cap
- 1926 An Accident
- 1927 Peel Park, Salford — an art gallery and museum that Lowry particularly liked and that held Salford's excellent collection of his work before the opening of the Lowry Centre
- 1927 A view from the bridge
- 1927 Coming Out of School — the first Lowry painting to be bought by the Tate Gallery by the Lord Duveen Fund
- 1928 A Street Scene — the first Lowry painting to be bought by Salford City Art Gallery
- 1928 Going to the Match — a crowd heading for a football match at Burnden Park, Bolton
- 1930 Coming from the Mill
- 1934 The Empty House — an isolated house in grounds
- 1935 A Fight
- 1935 The Fever Van
- 1936 "Laying a Foundation Stone" — the mayor of Swinton and Pendlebury, laying a foundation stone in Clifton
- 1937 The Lake — an environmental nightmare against an industrial background
- 1938 A Head of a Man — it has been suggested that this red-eyed man might be a portrait of Robert Lowry (who would be much older than the portrait suggests) or a form of self-portrait
- 1940 The Bedroom – Pendlebury — his late mother's room
- 1941 Barges on a Canal
- 1942 The Sea — a mournful painting off the Berwick coast
- 1942 Blitzed Site — a man stands amidst the bombed ruins
- 1943 Britain at Play — huge busy urban scene which clearly depicts St. Michael's Flags and Angel Meadow Park, Manchester
- 1943 Going To Work — painted as a war artist
- 1945 V.E. Day
- 1946 The Park
- 1946 Good Friday, Daisy Nook
- 1947 A River Bank — bought by Bury Council for £150 in 1951, it was controversially sold by the Metropolitan Borough of Bury in 2006 to fund a £10 million budget deficit for £1.25 million at a Christie's auction
- 1947 Iron Works
- 1947 Cranes and Ships, Glasgow Docks — acquired by Glasgow City Council at Christie's in November 2005 for £198,400, presently on display at the Kelvin Hall, it was bought specifically for display in the new Riverside Museum
- 1949 The Canal Bridge
- 1950 The Pond — used as a Christmas card by prime minister Harold Wilson in 1964
- 1953 Football Ground — fans converging on Bolton Wanderers's old association football ground Burnden Park; painted for a competition run by the Football Association, it was later renamed Going to the Match and was bought by the Professional Footballers' Association for a record £1.9 million in 1999
- 1955 A Young Man — a haunted youth stares at the viewer
- 1955 Industrial Landscape
- 1956 The Floating Bridge — one of a pair owned by the City of Southampton, where the bridge operated until 1977
- 1957 Man Lying on a Wall — note the gentle joke that the man's briefcase bears the initials 'LSL'
- 1957 Portrait of Ann — a fiction
- 1959 On the Sands — oil on canvas
- 1960 Gentleman Looking at Something
- 1961 River Wear at Sunderland — one of Lowry's favoured holiday destinations
- 1962 Two People
- 1963 The Sea — typically understated seascape
- 1965 Industrial Scene
- 1967 Tanker entering the Tyne
- 1908 Head from the Antique — very accurately observed
- 1914 Seated Male Nude — realistic rendition with no trace of 'matchstick men'
- 1919 Robert Lowry — the artist's father
- 1920 The Artist's Mother
- 1931 Pendlebury Scene
- 1936 Dewars Lane — Lowry Trail in Berwick
- 1942 A Bit of Wenlock Edge
- 1956 Berwick Pier and Lighthouse
- 1957 Woman with Beard — a woman Lowry saw on a train
- 1958 The Elms — Lowry's house in Mottram-in-Longdendale
- 1961 Colliery, Sunderland
- 1969 The Front, Hartlepool
- undated Palace street Berwick
- undated The Match
Lowry's work is held in many public and private collections. The largest collection is held by the City of Salford and displayed at the Lowry Centre. Its L. S. Lowry Collection has about 350 of his paintings and drawings. X-ray analysis has revealed hidden figures under his drawings - the 'Ann' figures. Lowry's "Going to the Match" is owned by the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) and is also on display at the Lowry Centre in Salford.
The Tate Gallery in London owns 23 works. The City of Southampton owns The Floating Bridge, The Canal Bridge and An Industrial Town. His work is also featured at MOMA, in New York.
To mark the centenary of his birth, Royston Futter, director of the L .S. Lowry Centenary Festival on behalf of the City of Salford and the BBC
commissioned the Northern Ballet Theatre
and Gillian Lynne
to create a dance drama in his honour. A Simple Man
was choreographed and directed by Lynne, with music by Carl Davis
and starring Christopher Gable
and Moira Shearer
(in her last dance role) and it won a BAFTA
award as the best arts programme in 1987. It was subsequently transferred to the stage and first performed in Manchester in 1987 and in London at Sadlers Wells
Shelley Rohde is known to have completed a one-man-play about the artist for which Christopher Eccleston was at one time attached to. However, following her death in December 2007 it is unclear whether the play will be produced.
In 1978, two years after his death, Mancunian duo Brian and Michael hit number one in the UK pop charts with their only hit, the Lowry tribute Matchstalk Men And Matchstalk Cats And Dogs.
Written by Ancoats born Michael Coleman and produced by Kevin Parrott, the record sold 750,000 copies.
Terry Gilliam's dystopian fantasy film Brazil pays homage to Lowry through both the incorporation of 'Lowryesque' cityscapes and the name of its chief protagonist (Sam Lowry).
The Manchester rock band Oasis paid tribute to Lowry by releasing a music video for the single "The Masterplan" in October 2006 which uses Lowry style animation.
Burberry designer Christopher Bailey drew influences from Lowry's work for his Autumn/Winter 2008-9 collection.
- Allen Andrews, The Life of L. S. Lowry, A Biography, (London: Jupiter Books, 1977)
- David, McLean. 1978.L. S. Lowry. The Medici Society, London.
- Hilda Margery Clarke, Lowry Himself, (Southampton: The First Gallery, 1992) ISBN 0-9512947-0-9
- Michael Howard, Lowry — A Visionary Artist (Lausanne, Switzerland: Acatos, 1999)
- Michael Leber & Judith Sandling (editors), L. S. Lowry, (Oxford: Phaidon, 1987)
- Michael Leber & Judith Sandling, Lowry's City: A Painter and His Locale, (London: Lowry House, 2001)
- Mervyn Levy, The Paintings of L. S. Lowry: Oils and Watercolours, (London: Jupiter Books, 1975)
- Mervyn Levy, The Drawings of L. S. Lowry: Public and Private, (London: Jupiter Books, 1976)
- Tilly Marshall, Life with Lowry, (London: Hutchinson, 1981) ISBN 0-09-144090-4
- Shelley Rohde, A Private View of L. S. Lowry, (London: Collins, 1979)
- Shelley Rohde, The Lowry Lexicon — An A–Z of L. S. Lowry, (Salford Quays: Lowry Press, 1999)
- Doreen Sieja, The Lowry I Knew, (London: Jupiter Books, 1983)
- Julian Spalding, Lowry, (Oxford: Phaidon, New York: Dutton, 1979)
- H.W. Timperley, (ill. L. S. Lowry), A Cotswold Book, (London: Jonathan Cape, 1931)