Laurence Stephen Lowry also known as L.S Lowry or Laurie, was a British artist who did paintings and drawings based around his hometown, Pendlebury in Lancashire and surrounding areas of Salford. He is famous for his industrial landscape paintings which feature human figures resembling “matchstick men” but a lack of lighting, weather conditions and shadows of the figure led to a lot of bad reviews from critics about his work.
I have decided to research L.S Lowry as I find his style of painting architecture very captivating yet also very simplistic, almost like a children’s book illustration. The limited uses of colour is fitting since he lived in an area which was very industrial so I like his realistic portrayal of the place he was capturing.
Netflix film: Mrs Lowry & Son:
This film focusing on Lowry and his relationship with his mother and painting came out in 2019 and had a duration of 1 hour and 31 minutes. It was directed by Adrian Noble and its description was “British painter L.S Lowry tries to pursue his passion for art while living with a bitter and bedridden mother who takes a dim view of his vocation”.
The film focused a lot on how Lowry’s mother resented him and his father for the way her life ended up since his father got into a lot of debt and they both weren’t successful businessmen. It was clear that this affected Lowry a lot as it was his ambition to pay off his fathers debts and make his mother happy.
In the film it was clear that Lowry’s mother had an issue with his painting and wanted him to be a successful businessman rather than following in his fathers footsteps and becoming a debt collector. Many times she refers to Lowry’s art as a “hobby” and says that he doesn’t have artistic attributes and so will never be an artist, which he disagreed with since he went to art school for several years.
The film mentioned an art critic’s (Mr Denby) opinion of Lowry’s painting ‘Coming from the Mill’ which caused further vexation with his mother. The painting was made in 1930 and is oil on canvas with dimensions of 42cm by 52cm. It features an industrial scene with many figures walking in different directions presumably after work from the title of the piece.
From the paper, his mother read the critics opinion which was; “An ugly painting. The painting by Mr L.S Lowry, ‘Coming from the Mill’, is confusing and appears to have been painted by a child. The figures, if we may call them figures, are nothing but smudges, ridiculous marionettes suspended in a squalid industrial scene. If this is Mr Lowry’s vision of the Lancashire landscape and its people, I feel very sorry for him. It is a most unsatisfactory picture, and an insult to the people of Lancashire.”
Throughout the film, there was a lot of things Lowry says that explains his reasons for painting, processes used and insight into how it makes him feel. I found this interesting as it allowed me to see his viewpoint and it was captured with a lot of emotion.
This is a painting which Lowry’s mother’s neighbour liked which influenced her to like it too. This painting was created for his mother as a “gift of the past” which he painted from his memory of being on the beach in Lytham with his mother when he was 7 years old. His mother liked ir so much that she paid 2 shillings for his work to be entered into an amateur artist competition but it didn’t win. However, Lowry also entered the painting ‘Coming from the Mill’ without telling his mother which someone wanted to buy for £20, this caused his mum to have a bad reaction as her favourite wasn’t chosen. Then she told Lowry that she didn’t like any of his paintings which made him destroy a lot of his work. Then he revealed that every painting he ever did was for his mother. everything he does is for her, for love.
His mother died in 1939 and later that year he got his first exhibition in London. He was offered several British honours including an OBE and a knighthood but turned them all down saying “there seemed little point…once mother was dead.”
Quotations from the film:
“I paint what I see, I paint how I feel, I am a man who paints. Nothing more, nothing less. Every picture I paint begins the same way – begins the same colour (white) Flake White.”
“I paint to fill in the time, I paint for something to do. I’m not fit for anything else. Night after night, I sit up here in the attic. Nothing in the house stirs. The smell of turpentine, the hiss of the gas jet, Outside, one solitary star watches over me. This is my world. I’m safe here. Alone. I paint, and I paint. A smudge here with my finger, a stroke of the brush there. I see light and atmosphere in the bleakest of places, a railway arch, a stone viaduct. There’s a beauty in everything. A man just has to open his eyes and look. Observe everything. Life. What does that make me? Am I an artist? What would you call yourself Laurie?”
I found these quotes really interesting and it related to my project through capturing the atmosphere of Leicester through studies of the buildings, though I haven’t considered incorporating figures into my work this is something I could try out at some point.
Overall, the film was very interesting and featured a lot of information and quotes which are really helpful in allowing me to identify some of the ways I can approach my studies of Leicester.
Information I got from video above:
In 1938 Daisy jewel persuaded the director of the LeFevre Gallery in new Bond Street London to show some of Lowry’s paintings. In early 1939, attracting many reviews in the national press his mother was not impressed but the Tate Gallery was, and they bought dwellings Ordsall Lane for £15.00 but they didn’t display for 20 years which Lowry took personally believing that they didn’t really want the painting. His mother died in October 1939 and Lowry painted the bedroom in Pendlebury in memory of the long hours he spent looking after her. After she died, Lowry lost all interest and continuing to paint was his only Salvation. Lowry was 52 when his mother died and for the next nine years he stayed in the house alone. He had no wife, but he did adopt several young female companions who he mentored and paid to go through art college. He referred to them collectively as Anne. A young girl called Carol Lowry of no relation was one of these girls. She had written to him in 1957 saying she had an interest in art and since she shared a surname would he offer her advice. He took her to gallery’s and paid for her education throughout college. Years later Carrol said he always behaved immaculately; he was always invariably extremely circumspect in his behaviour towards her. In the 1940s, he became an official war artist as he drew the ruined shelves of bombed outbuildings and was strongly affected emotionally. These paintings sold for as much as £60.00 each. You could see from his pictures how his own loneliness is reflected in his paintings but by 1948 he was earning good money as a painter, so he moved to a new house to the more affluent village of Mottram in Longdendale near Manchester. He began collecting works by other artists that he admired particularly the pre-Raphaelite painter daunting Gabriel Rossetti. In 1951 he confessed to a psychiatrist friend how he would stare for hours at empty houses with empty windows standing in isolation on derelict streets. He saw in those desolate buildings an image of himself.
How Lowry’s work inspires me in my project:
As Lowry focused on painting scenes where he lives, I felt I could easily relate to him as my project is focused on Leicester, the place I have grew up in and lived my whole life. I find his processes and colour palettes very simple yet effective and they easily demonstrate his difficult relationship with his mother, I can see how he felt isolated and alone through his paintings with a lot of the figures not interacting with each other. I find the ways he paints buildings very effective as they have a lot of detail yet are simple at the same time, reminding me of children’s book illustrations or small cartoons. This combination of realism and playful characters is something I have been exploring in my work as I feel it can really bring out the qualities of a place, even subtlety. I find the ways people reacted to his art over the years very interesting in a sense that I feel sorry for him with his passion being looked down on by strangers and even those close to him. I feel that I have been judged by people in the past for taking an artistic education rather than academic but I can’t comprehend what it must have been like back in Lowry’s experiences. I feel that his work truly captures what industrialism was like and I am going to continue to use Lowry’s work as inspiration throughout my project.