Rather than being an eccentric and anomalous artist, L.S. Lowry was following in the tradition of the French impressionists, an upcoming exhibition at Tate Britain argues.
‘As we became interested in Lowry, it occurred to us that we were on familiar ground,’ say the distinguished art historians T.J. Clark and Anne M. Wagner, who were invited to reassess Lowry’s place in art history. ‘A lot of Lowry’s paint handling and sense of effect, his respect for a kind of quiet unity of the whole… this is the kind of thing we have become accustomed to think of as modern painting from Pissarro and Seurat.’
Like the 19th-century French artists, Lowry believed that for painting to stay alive it needed to represent urban life. The impressionists’ influence can be seen as late as the 1950s, in the compositions of his large-scale industrial landscapes – eight of which are brought together for the first time in the Tate show.
Despite his reputation as a ‘naïve’ artist, Lowry actually studied painting for many years. In 1905, he enrolled at the Municipal College of Art in Manchester, where he was taught by Adolphe Valette, a Frenchman who put him in touch with current developments in Paris.
However, Lowry was not uncritical of his forebears. ‘Lowry’s work is – deliberately – tougher and cruder,’ says Clark. ‘He said of the impressionists that although their work was “meat and drink” to him, it lacked the “battle of life”.’
Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life opens 26 June 2013 at Tate Britain