As our Lowry show enters its final weeks, Assistant Curator, Helen Little, takes a closer look at his large-scale industrial landscapes brought together for the first time in the last room of the exhibition

L.S. Lowry, 'Industrial Landscape' 1955

L.S. Lowry
Industrial Landscape 1955
Oil on canvas
support: 1143 x 1524 mm frame: 1410 x 1790 mm
Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1956© The estate of L.S. Lowry

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One of the most revelatory aspects of Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life is the last room that presents all eight of Lowry’s less well known, late urban panoramas. In these works, a leap up to the size of ‘history painting’, (paintings that depict a narrative, and are usually large in size) tells us something about the measure of Lowry’s final ambition as he bid farewell to the subject and world he made his own. I really cannot overestimate how much these works need to be seen in the flesh to fully appreciate their scale, beauty and painterliness.

These large panoramas fall into two groups: the first, from the 1950s, are titled, with intentional generality, Industrial Landscapes. From the 1950s Lowry began to make paintings that grew increasingly from memory. He would build up the different elements on the canvas from ideas, to form uncanny, dreamlike compositions that at the same time suggest real locations. In a letter to the Tate Gallery in 1956, Lowry described the genesis of Industrial Landscape (painted in 1955 and now in the Tate collection), as being of no particular place:

When I started it on the plain canvas I hadn’t the slightest idea as to what sort of Industrial Scene would result. But by making a start by putting say a Church or Chimney near the middle of the picture it seemed to come bit by bit.

The second, less well known group was painted in the 1960s in the mining valleys of South Wales, the heartland of the Labour movement. Lowry was introduced to the ;South Wales mining valleys by his friend the art collector Monty Bloom. Their travels around Wales reawakened Lowry’s interest in the industrial scene, and the area’s unusual combination of rugged landscape and densely packed towns inspired some of his most celebrated paintings including Ebbw Vale painted in 1960, Hillside in Wales 1962, and Bargoed 1964.

It’s interesting that the new scale of these works seems to have steered Lowry back to Impressionist territory. Brought together for the first time, in both groups the tone is valedictory – a last farewell.

Comments

flamencofan

I think the exhibition was very interesting and well-curated. I found the presentation of the paintings, and the comparison to French paintings very illuminating, as was the influence of his teacher. It is true the paintings cover the same themes and often look very similar but Lowry is not the only painter who paints the same view or objects many times. The exhibition gave me pause to think more about how he captured a world that is no longer here in Britain - but can be found in every industrial country elsewhere in the world. I don't usually use the audio guides but as this was the last day I decided to use one. The commentaries were very helpful (though I kept having technical problems and not being able to get back to the menu!) and added to the experience.

Gemma Tighe

I wasn't that keen on Lowry in the first place and only went because I'm a member. I just don't think he's any good technically, plus the relenting doom and gloom gets a bit much. Also, and I am probably biased because of my left wing views (which I admit should probably be left outside of an art gallery) I feel uncomfortable as it seems to be mocking working class people and making a cartoon out of them.

George Pearson

Rather more interesting than I had expected especially room 2 and the influences. Good contexts provided. The paintings were bleaker than is obvious in catalogues. On comparing it appears that publications are brightening up the image overmuch