With the arrival of September, ease yourself back into the daily round with Lowry’s Coming out of School

L.S. Lowry, 'Coming Out of School' 1927

L.S. Lowry
Coming Out of School 1927
Oil on wood
support: 347 x 539 mm frame: 631 x 441 x 45 mm
Presented by the Trustees of the Duveen Paintings Fund 1949© The estate of L.S. Lowry

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What a difference a day or two makes. A few days ago I was revelling in glorious sunshine in the Golden Valley of Herefordshire. The apple trees were heavy with fruit and you pretty much couldn’t make out the buddleia bushes for butterflies. Now the kitchen calendar is turned to September, the mood has shifted and these hazy days of summer suddenly seem no more. September means business: it’s back to work, and back to school for you.

Like many of Lowry’s pictures, Coming out of School is not a picture of a particular place, but is based on his recollections of a school seen in Lancashire – complete with traces of an unfinished composition on the back. Lowry’s unique blend of observation and imagination often produced images which capture a deeply felt experience of place. Following a visit to Lowry’s first solo exhibition in London in 1939, the then Director of the Tate Gallery, John Rothenstein, later wrote of how he marvelled at ‘the accuracy of the mirror that this to me unknown painter had held up.’

T. J. Clark, the co-curator of Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life exhibition at Tate Britain, wrote of Lowry’s often-repeated ‘recognition scene’ and how ‘atmosphere’ was ‘fundamental to Lowry. Much of his effort as a painter went into perfecting a dry, slightly abrasive, decidedly unpicturesque (‘un-impressionist’) state of the light and air’. Dark figures in the foreground mill around outside a red-brown school building at the end of a day’s teaching. What do they come out of school to? A sky that matches the colour of the road, which is just a few shades lighter than the grey factory buildings that loom over them.

Clark goes on to describe how ‘Lowry conjures up the memory of a tighter, smaller, ground-level world – the one he walked through each Monday to Wednesday. The world faces front and is pinned matter-of-factly to the picture’s surface and edges. The gravestone blocks at each side of Coming out of School only slightly exaggerate – and formalise – the compositional formula.’

In showing a world that ‘faces’ us front on, the scene certainly does feel ‘tight’. It’s as if the grey presses upon you, reminding of the reality that is overcast British sky and that yes, it will soon come again. Maybe, just maybe, we can repurpose Lowry’s acute attention to atmosphere and make indelible in our own minds that summer feeling. To help keep us going in our daily rounds, before the first week of September is up.

Comments

We really enjoyed the exhibition and particularly liked the fact that some of his teacher's paintings were also show. Very well curated exhibition and most thought provoking.

We really enjoyed the exhibition and i would now like to visit the Lowry Exhibition at Salford. It was very easy to view all the pictures and the information leaflets were excellent.

Thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition.I thought Lowry only painted match stick men & was pleasently surprised at the range of his paintings.Thank-you for putting on the show me & my friends still talk about it.

The Lowery Exhibition was a delight.it showed me another insight into this painter. It was interesting to see paintings which influenced him throughout his life.i loved the painting by his tutor. A most enjoyable time was spent at gallery and I mustgo again.

Thank you everyone for your comments. It’s great to hear you’ve enjoyed the show, with a few surprises along the way. I too thought it was revealing to see the paintings of Lowry’s tutor Valette amongst his own - you can really see how Impressionism influenced the artist. I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts! Best wishes, Susan. Assistant Blog Editor