Town
And Street Scenes

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Critical Review

As captured in his Town and Street Scenes prints, Lowry’s paintings offer a unique, sentimental insight into British industrial modern life. Comprising pieces like Burford Church, The Football Match and Berwick Upon Tweed, Lowry’s representations of city life can offer an intimate look into the social reality of North British industrial cities.

While each depiction refers to a single city that the artist visited throughout his lifetime, these artworks fascinate the contemporary viewer in their oscillation between specificity and universality. While individual elements are used to signal and signpost a specific place, Lowry’s depictions and his ‘stylised realism’ suggest that the ambition behind the pieces is that of representing the entire reality of modern industrial life and the commonality of experiences shared by the laborious working-class across the North. As Lowry admitted, "Most of my land and townscape is composite. Made up; part real and part imaginary ... bits and pieces of my home locality. I don't even know I'm putting them in. They just crop up on their own, like things do in dreams.” That is, Lowry’s pieces oscillate between what has been called his “concern for the local” and a universalising ambition of synthesising the differential experiences of different people in a singular experience defined by the industrial landscape.

Why are the Town and Street Scenes important?

Compared to his more famous industrial landscapes, these depictions strike in their familiar intimacy. Rather than in his large landscape industrial scenes, it is in these depictions that Lowry’s urban modernism best comes to life through the use of close-up techniques, as in The Arrest, that direct the viewer’s attention towards the way the city is inhabited by its citizens. In this sense, the scenes are evocative of Henri Lefevbre’s famous statement: “it is in its streets that the life of the large industrial city is at its most original and authentic”. For his capacity at depicting a form of cityism, art critic John Berger praised Lowry and claimed he was amongst the few painters who managed to capture on canvas or print different “ways of seeing” and living the urban landscape.

Attesting to the art historical and social relevance of these paintings, an exhibition entitled Lowry And The Painting Of Modern Life held at Tate Britain in 2013 and curated by Anne Wagner and T. J. Clark focused on contextualising Lowry’s cityscapes within broader art-historical traditions, proposing that the artist’s works be analysed side by side with French Impressionism to map their similarities.

Through their use of muted colours and match-like figures, these artworks constitute an immense legacy and historical document left by the artist to his audience and continue to offer art critics and collectors new ways of thinking about a pivotal yet often understated moment in the history and construction of modern England.

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