Visual poet of industrial humanity

Mr L.S. Lowry, RA, the celebrated painter of North Country industrial landscapes, died yesterday at the age of 88. From his birth on November 1, 1887, Laurence Stephen Lowry lived with his parents in Manchester until 1909. He was an only child. At an early age he showed an inclination to became a painter and his father, an estate agent, sent him to the Manchester School of Art. There he learnt to paint in the impressionistic style of that date. In 1909 his parents moved to a house in Pendlebury, which adjoins Manchester. He continued as before to live with them, for he was devoted to them particularly to his mother, who was a good pianist and had some natural taste. Living quietly he worked hard at his art, which as yet showed no trace of the personal style which was to make him celebrated.

In 1915, when he was 28 years old, he became rather suddenly aware that his impressionist c d and the method did not suffice to capture the subtle beauty which he began to see in the Pendlebury streets. By 1920 a new style was fully developed. The most marked characteristic of Lowry's pictures is the figures. Some of them have as many as a hundred figures or more. In some there are only three or four, in others there are no figures at all. The figures have been described as having a somnambulist air. Many seem to be hurrying on some secret errand. One gathers that they are not intended to represent real people met with in Manchester; one is looking at shadows of Lowry's lonely self. In some cases they even have a physical look of the artist's outline. He may he detected brooding on the scene or hastening from it. Not all his pictures are haunted in this way. There are cheerful crowds, women with prams, cur dogs at the seaside. Yet his strange presence is always discernible.

But 19 years were to elapse before London began to notice him. During these 19 years he continued to live with his parents the life of a recluse. The most he could bring hinuelf to do was to send some of his paintings to the well-known London framers Bourlet and Co, who managed to get a few of them into the Royal Societies, but rarely sold even one.

The year 1938 was the turning point in his fortunes; he was by then 51 years of age. Mr Reid, the senior partner of the firm of Reid and Lefevre, happened one day to notice a number of his paintings in Bourlet's. Convinced that he had made a discovery, he had all the pictures sent to his gallery and gave Lowry a full London exhibition in the following year, 1939. At this exhibition a few paintings were sold, including one to the Tate.

The press was encouraging, though the estimate of most of the critics was wrong. Here was another Sunday painter was the general view. The critics did not recognize him for what he was, the master of an original style who had suddenly emerged from the obscurity of the Midlands after 30 years' lonely struggle. But Mr Reid's first opinion that he had chanced upon an artist of remarkable power was unshaken. He resolved to push him and fixed a second exhibition for 1943, when Lowry was 56. By this date his father was dead and his mother, too, died about this time. But he did not, as he might well have done, leave Pendlebury and settle in London. He was too much of a confirmed recluse and knew well that his inspiration came from the sight of the streets and people of the industrial North. But in 1948 he left the family house in Pendlebury and took a house in a small village on the east side af Manchester, called Mottram-in-Longdendale, from whose windows he could see the Pennines, a solitary retreat. He was within easy reach by bus of the centre of Manchester, where he would silently wander often down the Oldham Road on to other corners he never grew tired of. He occasionally paid short visits to London and stayed at a small hotel near Russell Square. Such an occasion was his exhibition of 1943, his second at the Lefevre Gallery. It made more impression than the first, but only slightly more as it was possible to buy a Lowry of moderate size for 20.

Reid continued regularly to exhibit him and, as it became clearer that he was an original master, the demand for his paintings increased, and the prices rose. Collectors in the North rallied to him, proud to have an artist who could depict their urban life with such depth of insight. Exhibitions in the 1950s and 1960s were held in several manufacturing cities, the most notable at Eccles, called Homage to Lowry, under the patronage of such notable connoisseurs as Sir Herbert Reid and Sir Kenneth Clarke. In 1962 he was elected to the Royal Academy.

He was awarded honorary degrees by Manchester, Salford and Liverpool Universities.

In 1966, when he was 79, the Tate Gallery gave him a full retrospective exhibition. The price of his paintings had steadily risen from hundreds to thousands of pounds each.

Despite his wide celebrity he remained the recluse he had always been, seeing few people and never mixing in the London art world, working without cessation on his paintings, some of which he kept by him for years, unsatisfied till he had given them some final touches. To meet, he was tall, gaunt, remote and inarticulate. It was written of him in 1951 that in his loneliness and fixedness he seemed to yearn towards the journeying moon.

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