Sailing Boats is an example of Lowry’s seaside paintings. His fondness of the subject matter of the sea seems to contrast starkly with his urban obsessions of poverty, smoke and bustle. Still, the air of pessimism was also present in Lowry’s maritime interest:
”I’ve always been fond of the sea. How wonderful it is, yet also how terrible. I often think... what if it suddenly changed its mind and didn't turn the tide — and came straight on? If it didn't stop and came on and on and on and on... That would be the end of it all.”
This sense of dread is indeed evoked by Sailing Boats - with a more swirling, Turneresque sky than his cityscapes, this simple picture carries more of a threat than some of the artist’s better-known urban works. The sublime power of nature is rawer in Lowry’s seascapes. Although his mills and houses are bleak, they are simpler in their composition with a more manageable presence. The repeated shapes created by the sails dwarf the figure in the foreground and all is enveloped in a swirling sky that merges without the sea, horizonless and imposing. An intriguing side-note to this work is that it is the only painting that Lowry’s mother ever praised.