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
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.