L. S. Lowry

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L. S. Lowry

Lowry at work
(cover image of L. S. Lowry: A Biography by Shelley Rohde)
Birth nameLaurence Stephen Lowry
Born(1887-11-01)1 November 1887
Stretford, Lancashire, England
Died23 February 1976(1976-02-23) (aged 88)
Glossop, Derbyshire, England
TrainingManchester Municipal College
Salford Technical College
WorksGoing to the Match (1928)
Coming from the Mill (1930)
Industrial Landscape (1955)
InfluencedHelen Bradley, Sheila Fell, Harold Riley
AwardsFreedom of the City of Salford
Honorary Master of Arts
Honorary Doctor of Letters
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L. S. Lowry

Lowry at work
(cover image of L. S. Lowry: A Biography by Shelley Rohde)
Birth nameLaurence Stephen Lowry
Born(1887-11-01)1 November 1887
Stretford, Lancashire, England
Died23 February 1976(1976-02-23) (aged 88)
Glossop, Derbyshire, England
TrainingManchester Municipal College
Salford Technical College
WorksGoing to the Match (1928)
Coming from the Mill (1930)
Industrial Landscape (1955)
InfluencedHelen Bradley, Sheila Fell, Harold Riley
AwardsFreedom of the City of Salford
Honorary Master of Arts
Honorary Doctor of Letters

Laurence Stephen Lowry (1 November 1887 – 23 February 1976) was an English artist born in Stretford, Lancashire. Many of his drawings and paintings depict nearby Salford and surrounding areas, including Pendlebury, where he lived and worked for over 40 years.

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 human figures often referred to as "matchstick men". He also painted mysterious unpopulated landscapes, brooding portraits, and the unpublished "marionette" works, which were only found after his death.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[1] 'Sunday painter' although this is not the position of the galleries that have organised retrospectives of his works.[2][3][4][5]

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.


Early life

Lowry was born in November 1887 at 8 Barrett Street, Old Trafford, in Stretford.[6] It was a difficult birth, and his mother Elizabeth, who hoped for a girl, was uncomfortable even looking at him at first. Later she expressed 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 whom 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."[7]

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 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 maintained, in interviews conducted later in his life, that he had an unhappy childhood, growing up in a repressive family atmosphere. Although 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.[8][9]

Much of Lowry's early years were spent in the leafy Manchester suburb of Victoria Park, Rusholme but in 1909, due to financial pressures, the family moved to 117 Station Road in the industrial town of Pendlebury. Here the landscape comprised textile mills and factory chimneys rather than trees. Lowry later recalled: "At first I detested it, and then, after years I got pretty interested in it, then obsessed by it...One day I missed a train from Pendlebury - (a place) I had ignored for seven years — and as I left the station I saw the Acme Spinning Company's mill ... The huge black framework of rows of yellow-lit windows standing up against the sad, damp charged afternoon sky. The mill was turning out... I watched this scene — which I'd looked at many times without seeing — with rapture..."[10]


The Peel Building where Lowry studied during his time at the Salford Royal Technical College. The building overlooks Peel Park, the subject of a number of his paintings

After leaving school, Lowry began a career working for the Pall Mall company, later collecting rents. He would spend some time in his lunch hour at Buile Hill Park.[11]

Lowry also took private art lessons in the evenings on antique and freehand drawing. In 1905, he secured a place at the Manchester Municipal College of Art, where he studied under the French Impressionist artist Pierre Adolphe Valette.[12] Lowry was full of praise for Valette as a teacher, remarking "I cannot over-estimate the effect on me of the coming into this drab city of Adolphe Valette, full of French impressionists, aware of everything that was going on in Paris".[13] In 1915 he graduated to the Salford Royal Technical College (now the University of Salford) where he continued his studies until 1925. Here, he developed his interest in industrial landscapes and began to establish his style.[14]

Death of his mother

His father died in 1932, leaving debts. His mother, subject to neurosis and depression, became bedridden and dependent on her son for care. Lowry painted after his mother had fallen asleep, between 10pm and 2am, or, depending how tired he was, he might stay up for another hour adding features. Many 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 at Manchester Art Gallery in 1931. He expressed regret that he received little recognition as an artist until the year his mother died and that she was not able to enjoy his success. From the mid-1930s until at least 1939 Lowry took annual holidays at Berwick-upon-Tweed. After the outbreak of war Lowry served as a volunteer fire watcher and became an official war artist in 1943. In 1953 he was appointed Official Artist at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

When his mother died in October 1939 Lowry became depressed and over time, 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. Although he considered the house ugly and uncomfortable, he stayed there until his death almost 30 years later.[15]

Personal life

In later years, Lowry spent holidays at the Seaburn Hotel in Sunderland, County Durham, painting scenes of the beach and nearby ports and coal mines.[16] When he had no sketchbook, Lowry drew scenes in pencil or charcoal on the back of envelopes, serviettes (napkins), and cloakroom tickets and presented them to young people sitting with their families. 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.[17] His friends observed that his anecdotes were more notable for humour than accuracy and in many cases he set out deliberately to deceive. His stories about the fictional Ann were inconsistent and he invented other people as frameworks on 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 bought works from young artists he admired, such as James Lawrence Isherwood whose 'Woman with Black Cat', hung on his studio wall.[18] He kept ongoing friendships with some of these artists. He befriended the 23-year-old Cumbrian artist Sheila Fell in November 1955, describing her as “the finest landscape artist of the mid-20th century”.[19] He supported her career by buying several pictures that he gave to museums. Fell later described him as "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." As he never married this had an impact on his influence, but he did have several lady friends. At the age of 88 he said that he had "never had a woman".[20]

As his celebrity grew in the late 1950s, he grew tired of being approached by strangers, and particularly disliked being visited by them at home. 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 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 was erected at the traffic lights in the village.

Despite attempts to present himself as a "simple man" and, by default, unable to appreciate post-classical art, Lowry seems to have been aware of major trends in 20th century art. In an interview with Mervyn Levy he expressed his admiration for the work of René Magritte and Lucian Freud, although he admitted that he "didn't understand" Francis Bacon's work. When he started to command large sums for the sale of his works, Lowry purchased a number of paintings and sketches by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Many of these works were portraits of Elizabeth Siddal, Jane Morris and William Holman Hunt's muse Annie Miller. Lowry considered Rossetti to be his chief inspiration.

Although seen as a mostly solitary and private person, Lowry enjoyed attending football matches and was an ardent supporter of Manchester City Football Club.[21][22]


Lowry retired from the Pall Mall Property Company in 1952 on his 65th birthday (McLean, 1978). He became chief cashier but never stopped collecting rents. The firm supported his development as an artist and allowed time off for exhibitions in addition to his annual leave. It seems that he was not proud of his job; secrecy about his employment by the 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 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 visited friends at Cleator Moor in Cumberland (where Geoffrey Bennett was the manager at the National Westminster Bank) and Southampton (where Margery Thompson had moved after her marriage). He painted pictures of the bank in Cleator Moor, Southampton Floating Bridge and other scenes local to his friends' homes.

In 1957 an unrelated 13-year-old schoolgirl called Carol Ann Lowry wrote to him at her mother's urging to ask his advice on becoming an artist. He visited her home in Heywood and befriended the family. His friendship with Carol Ann Lowry lasted for the rest of his life.[23]

Lowry joked about retiring from the art world, citing his lack of interest in the changing landscape. Instead, he began to focus on groups of figures and odd imaginary characters. Unknown to his friends and the public, Lowry produced a series of erotic works which were not seen until after his death. The paintings depict the mysterious "Ann" figure, who appears in portraits and sketches produced throughout his lifetime, enduring sexually-charged and humiliating tortures. When these works were exhibited at the Art Council's Centenary exhibition at the Barbican in 1988, art critic Richard Dorment wrote in the Daily Telegraph that these works "reveal a sexual anxiety which is never so much as hinted at in the work of the previous 60 years." The group of erotic works, which are sometimes referred to as "the mannequin sketches" or "marionette works" are kept at the Lowry Centre and are available for visitors to see on request. Some are also brought up into the public display area on a rotation system. Manchester author Howard Jacobson has argued that the images are just part of Lowry's melancholy and tortured view of the world and that they would change the public perception of the complexity of his work if they were more widely seen.[24][25]

Death and legacy

Entrance to the Lowry Centre on Salford Quays
L. S. Lowry memorial at Mottram in Longdendale

Lowry died of pneumonia at the Woods Hospital in Glossop on 23 February 1976 aged 88. He was buried in the Southern Cemetery in Manchester, next to his parents. He left estate valued at £298,459, and 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, his works often sold for millions of pounds and inspired other artists. The Lowry in Salford Quays was opened in 2000 at a cost £106million; named after him, the 2,000 square metres (22,000 sq ft) gallery houses 55 of his paintings and 278 drawings – the world's largest collection of his work – with up to 100 on display.[26] In January 2005, a statue of him was unveiled in Mottram in Longdendale[27] 100 yards away from his home from 1948 until his death in 1976. The statue has been a target for vandals since it was unveiled.[28] In 2006 the Lowry Centre in Salford hosted a contemporary dance performance inspired by the works of Lowry.[29]

Awards and honours

Lowry was awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree, by the University of Manchester in 1945, and Doctor of Letters in 1961. He was given the freedom of the city of Salford in 1965. In 1975 he was awarded honorary Doctor of Letters degrees by the Universities of Salford and 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 at Monk's Hall Museum, Eccles. The Hallé Orchestra 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 depicted on a postage stamp of highest denomination in a series issued by the Post Office depicting great British artists in 1968.

Lowry twice declined appointment to the (Order of the British Empire): as an Officer (OBE) in 1955, and as a Commander (CBE) in 1961.[30] He turned down a knighthood in 1968, and appointments to the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) in 1972 and 1976.[30] He appears to hold the record for the most honours declined.[30]


L.S. Lowry's painting of Huddersfield in 1965.

On the industrial landscape:

On his style:

On painting his 'Seascapes':

On art:


"Oldfield Road Dwellings, Salford", 1927, oil on wood, 43.2cm x 53.3cm, Tate Gallery

Lowry's work is held in many public and private collections. The largest collection is held by Salford City Council and displayed at the Lowry Centre. Its collection has about 350 paintings and drawings. X-ray analysis has revealed hidden figures under his drawings - the 'Ann' figures. "Going to the Match" is owned by the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) and is temporaily on display at the National Football Museum.

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 featured at MOMA, in New York. The Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu in Christchurch, New Zealand has "Factory at Widnes" (1956) in its collection. The painting was one of the gallery’s most important acquisitions of the 1950s and remains the highlight of its collection of modern British art.[31]

During his life Lowry made about 1,000 paintings and over 8,000 drawings. The lists here are some of those that are considered to be particularly significant.

Selected paintings


Stolen Lowry works

Five Lowry art works were stolen from the Grove Fine Art Gallery in Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire 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.[48]


In popular culture



  1. ^ Jones, Jonathan (18 April 2011). "LS Lowry: The original grime artist". guardian.co.uk (London: Guardian News and Media). http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2011/apr/18/ls-lowry-tate. Retrieved 21 October 2011. 
  2. ^ L.S. Lowry Retrospective Exhibition (Manchester: Manchester City Art Gallery, 1959)
  3. ^ L S Lowry RA: Retrospective Exhibition, (London: Arts Council, 1966)
  4. ^ Mervyn Levy, L. S. Lowry (London: Royal Academy of Art, 1976)
  5. ^ M. Leber and J. Sandling (eds.), L. S. Lowry Centenary Exhibition (Salford: Salford Museum & Art Gallery, 1987)
  6. ^ Anon. "Stretford Area". Blue Plaques In Trafford. Trafford Council. http://www.trafford.gov.uk/leisureandculture/libraries/localandfamilyhistory/blueplaques/. Retrieved 18 May 2012. 
  7. ^ Anon. "LS Lowry Biography". lowryprints.com. LS Lowry prints. http://www.lowryprints.com/ls-lowry-biography. Retrieved 28 April 2012. 
  8. ^ Julian Spalding, Lowry, (Oxford: Phaidon, New York: Dutton, 1979)
  9. ^ Paul Vallely, 'Will I be a great artist?', The Independent, 23 February 2006
  10. ^ Anon. "LS Lowry - His Life and Career". thelowry.com. The Lowry. http://www.thelowry.com/ls-lowry/his-life-and-work/. Retrieved 28 April 2012. 
  11. ^ "Buile Hill Park". Salford Borough Council. https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:ZN3C2c2j2wgJ:services.salford.gov.uk/solar_documents/CWCR141003U_0.PDF+%22Buile+Hill+estate%22&hl=en&gl=uk&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESgvVoglM4mkD-9dtNJ8smWCrrTe3nLWPmM-QHN-RMuaJqsTXklB02_al6Ew7sb07x_aoMu5djXY-N7bcmKPUJh7H8s3ZdHiPVZkA5sJ64SrD0KnsXxrQU2nYbK9gmDPoo-ft3XX&sig=AHIEtbSibnT1uZoDCTc4WuC4q_RZNfZTWg. Retrieved 2012-02-16. 
  12. ^ "Lowry and Valette" at manchestergalleries.org
  13. ^ Brown, Mark (14 October 2011). "Exhibition for 'Monet of Manchester' who inspired Lowry". guardian.co.uk (London: Guardian News and Media). http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2011/oct/14/exhibition-for-artist-who-inspired-lowry. Retrieved 21 October 2011. 
  14. ^ McLean, D. 1978
  15. ^ "L. S. Lowry". Britain Unlimited. http://www.britainunlimited.com/Biogs/Lowry.htm. Retrieved 8 November 2006. 
  16. ^ McLean, 1978.
  17. ^ For example, that when he was treated to lunch at The Ritz by the art dealer Andras Kalman, he asked if they did Egg and Chips, Daily Telegraph, Thursday 9 August 2007, Issue Number 47,332 p. 27.
  18. ^ www.isherwoodart.co.uk
  19. ^ "LS Lowry's brilliant but tragic protege gets her day in the sun" at independent.co.uk
  20. ^ Nikkhah, Roya (16 October 2010). "Hidden LS Lowry drawings reveal artist's erotic stirrings". The Telegraph (London: Telegraph Media Group). http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-news/8068169/Hidden-LS-Lowry-drawings-reveal-artists-erotic-stirrings.html. 
  21. ^ "Dream exhibition for City fan Ben". citylife.co.uk. 10 February 2009 - Ben, of course, also follows the great Lowry in another respect – his support and devotion to Manchester City. http://www.citylife.co.uk/arts/news/12433_dream_exhibition_for_city_fan_ben. 
  22. ^ "Lowry's 'hidden' football painting could set £4.5m record at auction... but what would he make of his beloved Manchester City today?". Daily Mail. 31 January 2011. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1352093/Lowrys-hidden-football-painting-set-4-5m-record-auction--make-beloved-Manchester-City-today.html. Retrieved 13 September 2011. 
  23. ^ "The dark side of the matchstick man", by Angela Levin at dailymail.co.uk
  24. ^ Thorpe, Vanessa (25 March 2007). "Lowry's dark imagination comes to light". The Observer (Guardian News and Media Limited). http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2007/mar/25/artnews.art. Retrieved 28 April 2012. 
  25. ^ Osuh, Chris (26 March 2007). "Let Lowrys see the light". Manchester Evening News (MEN media). http://menmedia.co.uk/manchestereveningnews/news/s/1002835_let_lowrys_see_the_light. Retrieved 28 April 2012. 
  26. ^ "Royals open Lowry centre". BBC News. 12 October 2000. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/968911.stm. Retrieved 11 July 2008. 
  27. ^ Lowry bronze unveiled - News - Manchester Evening News
  28. ^ Lowry statue too big a draw for vandals - News - Manchester Evening News
  29. ^ Briggs, Caroline (27 September 2006). "New life breathed into Lowry". BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/5343724.stm. Retrieved 11 July 2008. 
  30. ^ a b c "Queen's honours: People who have turned them down named". London: BBC. 26 January 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-16736495. Retrieved 26 January 2012. 
  31. ^ http://christchurchartgallery.org.nz/collection/browse/69-353/
  32. ^ http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/walker/collections/20c/Lowry.asp
  33. ^ http://www.ls-lowry.com/work/lafs.html
  34. ^ Houses on a Hill, Lowry, Derby Museum and Art Gallery, BBC, retrieved Auguist 2011
  35. ^ a b http://www.familytraits.co.uk/berwick_upon_tweed_moments_in_time.html
  36. ^ http://www.ls-lowry.com/work/lls01.html
  37. ^ Daily Telegraph, 31 January 2011, p.8
  38. ^ http://www.ls-lowry.com/work/arb47.html
  39. ^ "Council's Lowry sold for £1.25m". BBC News. 17 November 2006. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/manchester/6157204.stm. Retrieved 7 May 2010. 
  40. ^ "Lowry's painting of Glasgow docks - comes home". 24hourmuseum.org.uk. 23 December 2005. http://www.culture24.org.uk/art/painting+%26+drawing/art32729. Retrieved 30 April 2008. 
  41. ^ Daily Telegraph, January 31, 2011, p.8
  42. ^ "LS Lowry work The Football Match fetches record £5.6m". BBC News. 26 May 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-13560209. Retrieved 26 June 2011. 
  43. ^ http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/ViewWork?cgroupid=999999961&workid=9010&searchid=9041&tabview=image
  44. ^ "Footballers' union nets Lowry" at bbc.co.uk
  45. ^ "A Young Man, 1955" at tate.org.uk
  46. ^ "Industrial Landscape, 1955" at tate.org.uk
  47. ^ http://www.familytraits.co.uk/archive_moments_in_time.html#November2006
  48. ^ Anon (2 May 2007). "Lowry's valuable work stolen from Grove Fine Art gallery". ls-lowry.com. http://www.ls-lowry.com/news257.html. Retrieved 4 October 2011. 
  49. ^ "Back at his local: Statue of LS Lowry installed at the bar of Sam's Chop House". Manchester Evening News (M.E.N. Media). 21 February 2011. http://menmedia.co.uk/manchestereveningnews/news/s/1408770_back_at_his_local_statue_of_ls_lowry_installed_at_the_bar_of_sams_chop_house?all_comments=1. 
  50. ^ http://vogue.co.uk/Shows/Reports/Default.aspx?stID=50789
  51. ^ http://www.journallive.co.uk/culture-newcastle/theatre-in-newcastle/2010/08/04/theatre-puts-berwick-firmly-on-the-map-61634-26990836/


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