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L S Lowry

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Biography

Industrial scenes, his hometown of Lancashire and ‘matchstick men’ characterise the work of L.S Lowry, a key figure in 20th century British painting. S. Lowry is a seminal figure in British 20th century painting, best known for his distinctive painterly style and his depictions of industrial districts in the North West of England. Now a household name and with a significant Mancunian legacy - including the eponymously named Lowry Gallery, his ambition was to 'put the industrial scene on the map because nobody [before] had seriously done it.'

Beginnings

Born in 1887 in Stretford Lancashire, Lawrence Stephen Lowry spent the majority of his childhood in the Manchester suburb of Rusholme before moving to the industrial town of Pendlebury in 1909 when he was 22. Working as a rent collector by day, Lowry attended painting and drawing classes at the Municipal College of Art from 1905, and then at Salford School of Art from 1915 where he studied under the French impressionist Pierre Adolphe Vallette.

First Paintings

Lowry’s earliest paintings bear a significantly different tone to his later, more well known, urban scenes. In fact, during his training, Lowry’s paintings were far more impressionistic and dark in appearance, with his first recorded painting Still Life (1906) demonstrating this. Lowry also created many portraits during his early practice, including Portrait Of The Artist’s Mother (1912) and Portrait Of The Artist’s Father (1910) alongside many of the artist himself.

His works from 1930-1938 saw his rise to prominence as an artist, and consisted of his characteristic industrial scenes. It was during this period that one of his earlier studies of the Ancoat area, A Street Scene, (St. Simon’s Church,) (1928) was the first of his works purchased by the Salford Museum and Art Gallery.

Success

Though Lowry expressed his regret at the fact neither of his parents were able to enjoy his success, his widespread recognition came after his mother’s death. Having had work accepted already into the Royal Academy in 1932, Lowry held his first one-man exhibition in London in the Lefevre Gallery in 1939.

Most Famous Works

One of Lowry’s most famous works is his 1928 painting Going to the Match, which depicts football fans rushing towards the turnstiles of a football stadium that is already buzzing before kick-off. The background of terraced houses and factory smoke indicates where these fans have just arrived from. Typical of Lowry’s style and busy compositions, the artist signed 300 prints of this work in 1972, ensuring that Going to the Match is consistently sought after and recognised as the ‘archetypal Lowry’ painting - with the current highest bidding price for one of these prints being £25,000.

Influences

While Lowry himself claimed that one cannot ‘overestimate’ the influence of his teacher Vallette on his work, the typical impressionist colour palette and technique is not actually present in his paintings. Instead, it is the fascination with, and enjoyment of, modern life expressed in Lowry’s work that marks his shared passion with French Impressionism.

Style & Technique

Lowry’s artistic style was distinct. The use of simplified perspective, block colours and two dimensional ‘matchstick’ figures all contributed to the misconception that he was self-taught, despite his extensive artistic training. Lowry’s style remained naive and straightforward, with a limited colour palette. He claimed: 'I am a simple man, I use simple materials,' and we can see this in his predominant use of only five colours; ivory black, vermillion, prussian blue, yellow ochre and flake white.

After being told by one of his tutors in 1915 that his paintings were too dark, Lowry experimented with painting directly onto a pure white background, which then became standard practice for him throughout his career. Hence, the almost clinical brightness of his backgrounds even when depicting industrial urban landscapes.

Life & Times

Lowry remained employed as a rent collector and clerk for the majority of his working life, choosing to paint during the evenings. Called a 'Sunday Painter' by critics, in part due to this practice, but also due to his painterly style, Lowry, unperturbed, countered: 'I am a Sunday painter who paints every day of the week.' During World War Two, he volunteered as a fire watcher three nights a week in Manchester, and the damage done to the city as a result of the Blitz provided ample inspiration for some of his later works. Similarly, his love of football and dedication to Manchester City was reflected in his various studies of football matches and fans.

To this day, Lowry holds the record for most rejections of British Honours, (five times) including a knighthood which he was offered in 1968. He told Prime Minister at the time, Harold Wilson: 'All my life I have felt most strongly against social distinction of any kind.'

On the Market

During the 1960s and 70s, Lowry, now an established artist, produced limited edition prints of his most famous works for commercial sale. These prints were hugely successful and continue to gather popular momentum, with many bringing in £1000 - £5000 at auction in the last ten years.

His more famous oil paintings, such as The Football Match (1949) sold for £5.6 million in 2011, marking a new record and a long-lost Lowry painting, titled The Mill, Pendlebury (1943) was found for the first time in 2019 and sold for £2.5 million the following year.

Piccadily Circus by L S Lowry

Piccadily Circus © L S Lowry 1960

1. £5.6M for L S Lowry's Picadilly Circus

At a joint-first place for the most expensive Lowry painting at auction is Piccadilly Circus, which also achieved £5.6 million when it was offered at Christie’s 20th Century British & Irish Art Evening Sale in London on 16 November 2011 – nearly half a year after the sale of The Football Match. The painting had come to auction for the first time, after being hidden in the same private collection for 35 years. It was offered for auction again at Sotheby’s in London on 25 March 2014, where it sold for £5,122,500.

Lowry rarely painted London scenes and Piccadilly Circus is one of only two works to depict the landmark. The painting was formerly owned by entrepreneur Lord Forte and then A.J. Thompson, an esteemed collector who only bought works by Lowry.

The Football Match by L S Lowry

The Football Match © L S Lowry 1949

2. £5.6M for L S Lowry's The Football Match

Currently the most expensive painting by the artist at auction, The Football Match combines Lowry’s favourite artistic subject and his personal passion – the industrial landscape and football. Lowry was a supporter of Manchester City football club and brought his experiences of home games into this work, which depicts excited crowds at a Saturday afternoon football game.

When The Football Match was offered in Christie’s 20th Century British & Irish Art auction in London on 26 May 2011, the painting had not been seen in public for almost 20 years. It soared above its high estimate of £4.5 million and broke the previous record for a work by Lowry, set by Good Friday, Daisy Nook in 2007.

A Northern Race Meeting by L S Lowry

A Northern Race Meeting © L S Lowry 1956

3. £5.3M for L S Lowry's A Northern Race Meeting

Painted in 1956, A Northern Race Meeting depicts a crowd of people enjoying a day out at the racetrack. Although Lowry often depicted football matches, he seldom painted horse-racing – making this a rare work in the artist’s career. The painting was purchased shortly after it was created and had been on long-term loan to Graves Art Gallery in Sheffield since 1983. When A Northern Race Meeting was offered at Christie’s in London on 19 November 2018, it was the star lot of the evening, achieving more than double its high estimate of £2.5 million.

Good Friday, Daisy Nook by L S Lowry

Good Friday, Daisy Nook © L S Lowry 1946

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