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.
L.S. Lowry wrote this in a letter to the Tate Gallery in 1956, the year this painting was presented to Tate by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest. In it Lowry offers an explanation of how Industrial Landscape came into being. Painted the previous year in 1955, the painting followed an invitation from the Festival of Britain in 1951 to depict a subject of his choice, where only the work’s size was specified: five feet by almost four feet. The resulting picture is typical of the panoramic cityscapes Lowry went on to paint throughout his career - an imaginary landscape filled with familiar motifs.
Born in Stretford, Lancashire in 1887, Lowry’s works often depicted nearby Salford and the surrounding areas including Pendlebury, where he lived and worked for over 40 years. Elements of this particular panorama are recognisable as real places - the Stockport Viaduct is visible in on the horizon, a railway viaduct which constantly fascinated Lowry and still functions today – and in their layered multiplicity create an otherworldly, dreamlike composition. Smoking chimney after smoking chimney sit atop of factory after factory, flanked by road after road.
Industrial Landscape is on display in the final room of Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life at Tate Britain and the best way to encounter it is to stand squarely in front of it and let its smoke, white sky and blackened bits fill your vision. The painting is almost an invitation to join the figures in the foreground and say farewell to the British industry that was coming to an end, bit by bit.
Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life is on display at Tate Britain from Wednesday 26 June to 20 October 2013