Born in Manchester in 1887 Laurence Stephen Lowry was the only child of Robert and Elizabeth Lowry. He started drawing at the age of eight and in 1903, he began private painting classes which marked the start of a part-time education in art that was to continue for twenty years. In 1904, aged 16, Lowry left school and secured a job as a clerk in a chartered accountants firm, he remained in full time employment
until his retirement at the age of 65.
His desire to be considered a serious artist led Lowry to keep his professional and artistic life completely separate and it was not disclosed until after his death that he had worked for most of his life. In his preface to the 1976 Royal Academy Memorial exhibition,
Sir Hugh Casson referred to L S Lowry as one of the great English painters of this century.
An individual artist with a unique style, the work of Lowry spans the first half of the twentieth century recording with sensitivity and wit his own personal view of the people and architecture of the industrial north. His early training was at the Municipal College
of Art, Manchester, where he was taught by the French artist Adolphe Valette who introduced him to Impressionism and of whom Lowry said I owe so much to him for it was he who first showed me good drawings by the great masters, he gave me the feeling that life drawing was a very wonderful thing.
Lowry was, however, unaffected by impressionist technique of Valette and continued to develop a more realistic approach to his art. In 1909 Lowry and his parents moved to Pendlebury, where initially he was not happy, and for some years ignored his surroundings.
In 1916, whilst waiting for a train, Lowry became fascinated by the workers leaving the Acme Spinning Company Mill; the combination of the people and the surroundings were a revelation to him and marked the turning point in his artistic career. Lowry now began to explore the industrial areas of South Lancashire and discovered a wealth of inspiration, remarking “My subjects were all around me, in those days there were mills and collieries all around Pendlebury. The people who work there were passing morning and night. All my material was on my doorstep.”
By 1920, Lowry had developed his own unique style in his paintings. Street scenes, populated with workers, housewives and children set against a backdrop of industrial buildings and terraced houses had become central to his highly personal style. From now on he painted entirely from experience and believed that you should paint the place you know.
Lowry would spend his leisure time walking the streets of Manchester and Salford making pencil sketches on scraps of paper and the backs of used envelopes recording anything that could be used in his work. In his early factory scenes the emphasis is placed on the buildings and the atmosphere was often dark and sombre, however, as Lowry developed this theme the figures became more prominent and eventually he arrived at a marriage between the two where the figures and surrounding from a whole.
Lowry had established his own particular style by 1930, he was encouraged by his teacher Bernard Taylor to try to make his figures and buildings stand out more and he began to experiment with setting them against a white background. He chose flake white building up layer after layer on the canvas before painting the subject matter straight on top.
He used only four other colours: vermillion, prussian blue, ivory black and ochre which he applied straight from the tube. With the onset of the modernisation of the industrial north in mid 1950 Lowry lost interest in his surroundings and now concentrated
almost entirely on figures silhouetted against a white background, occasionally standing on a hint of a pavement or near a ghost of a wall, but frequently suspended in time and space.
Lowry continued to sketch and closely observe his subjects and his works form this period capture the essence and nature of the Northern people; he frequently mixes young and old and he imparts to each figures an individual character. Shelly Rhode in her book A private view of L S Lowry wrote he had a new obsession, his single figures, his grotesques.
The struggling, surging, misshapen homuculi who used to live for so long in the shadow of the mills emerging at last from their background to stand alone, as he stood alone.
Lowry visited Wales in the 1960s with his friend and patron Monty Bloom which briefly revived his interest in industrial scenes. Lowry was impressed by the contrast between the industrial towns and the surrounding countryside, consequently his paintings from this
period are brighter than his Lancashire paintings. However, towards the end of the 1960s Lowry began to lose his creative urge and, with the exception of the occasional moment of artistic inspiration he ceased painting almost completely.
At the age of 88, Laurence Stephen Lowry died of pneumonia in 1976. Although he had received critical acclaim for his work during the second half of his life, he never forgot the lack of recognition that he had received initially and he carried with him the feeling of isolation and rejection throughout his career. He refused the offer of a knighthood, as well as numerous other honours, and remained disillusioned with the art world despite thepraise that was often heaped upon him.
Lowry is always remembered as a man of remarkable resilience and sensitivity; he stood alone, unaffected by the influences of other artist and his inspiration came entirely from his own experience. Lowry’s unique works continue to receive the critical acclaim that is
so richly deserved. The most important private and public collections in the United Kingdom and abroad now hold Lowry paintings and drawings.
At the mere age of 15, L.S. Lowry was sent to art school by his aunt.
Many thought his work was amateur, but he was determined to prove them wrong.
At both Manchester Academy of Fine Art and Salford Royal Technical College, Lowry mainly studied French Impressionism. Inspired by artists such as Ford Madox Brown and Rosetti, he set out to develop a style of his own.
Very poor, Lowry could afford only to live on Station Rd in Pendlebury, surrounded by factories and industrial sites. At first he hated the atmosphere, but as seen in his pieces, he eventually became enamoured with them. Most of his paintings are characterized by what Lowry himself calls the “Industrial Scene. “Furthermore, Lowry worked as a rent collector for Pall Mall Property Company. As he travelled throughout the city on foot to collect rent he was able to see the entire industrial area as a whole.
Lowry’s work is usually characterized by a white background and basic colours, though he did use numerous tools to make textures, such as nails or toothpicks. He said of his creations, “I am a simple man, and I use simple materials: ivory, black, vermilion (red),
Prussian blue, yellow ochre, flake white and no medium (e.g. linseed oil). That’s all I’ve ever used in my paintings. I like oils… I like a medium you can work into over a period of time.”
In 1932, his father died and Lowry was responsible to take care of his bedridden, 73 year old mother. He was her caretaker for seven years, and only painted while his mother was sleeping. This was a time described by Lowry as depressing and lonely.
During this period he mainly painting industrial landscapes with no people in them to display his feeling of solitude. However, these were the paintings that would later make him famous.
His mother died in 1939, and Lowry painted “The Bedroom Pendlebury” in reaction to this event.
Throughout his lifetime, Lowry produced thousands of pencil drawings, these have become very collectable and the most detailed ones are very professionally drawn. Lowry was not registered with any doctor; in 1976 he died at hospital from pneumonia.
He had little time for the financial sharks that would ‘hound’ him on a daily basis, and the galleries hoping to inherit a number of works in Lowry’s will, they kept in close
contact with him throughout his old age, only to learn that Lowry had left all his paintings to a lady, with the same surname (Carol Ann), who had written him a letter when
she was a young girl, asking how she may learn to be an artist.
His standing as one of the foremost British artists of the 20th Century was strengthened when the painting “Going To The Match” was sold for a record£1.9 million to the Manchester based ‘Professional Footballers Association’. Manchester’s newly built museum gallery, The Centre in Salford Quays, now holds a major collection of his work.
A major exhibition of paintings and drawings by L.S Lowry was held in The Tate Gallery 2013. It attracted record attendances.
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