Room 5: The Social Life of Labour Britain

L.S. Lowry Ancoats Hospital Outpatients' Hall 1952

L.S. Lowry
Ancoats Hospital Outpatients' Hall 1952

The Whitworth Art Gallery
The University of Manchester © The estate of L.S. Lowry  All rights reserved, DACS 2013

From the Second World War onwards, Lowry’s art took a different tack. For all his solid Lancashire Conservatism, he responded profoundly to the new political and cultural realities of Britain after 1945. The obstreperous vitality of the working class became increasingly a subject. His style grew more comic and cartoonish. It edged deliberately towards the ‘popular’. The music-hall humour of George Formby or Al Read (whose irony Lowry loved) was invoked more openly.

But always with Lowry poverty and gloom were the other side of the coin. He was sceptical about the ‘end of the old working class’. ‘I don’t think they look much better than they used to in the old days,’ he said to an interviewer. ‘Individually yes – perhaps – but not as a crowd. I think the crowds look just the same.’ Lowry was capable (flouting Tory opinion at the time) of quietly celebrating the new world of the NHS. But his pictures found room for the maimed, the disabled, the desperate seekers after salvation, the ordinary casualties of modern life. Such pictures often nonplussed his admirers. The overall terms of the ‘battle of life’ may have changed for the better in Labour Britain; but the battle itself, as shown in Lowry’s art, was still unrelenting and deeply unfair.