L.S. Lowry (1887–1976) devoted his life to painting the England of the Industrial Revolution. ‘I saw the industrial scene’, he said, ‘and I was affected by it. I wanted to get a certain effect on the canvas. I couldn’t describe it, but I knew it when I’d got it.’ For forty years he painted the urban landscape of Salford and Manchester, and the everyday life of its working class. The range of his art is therefore narrow. Men come and go constantly through factory gates. But under the veil of cloth-cap uniformity, the life of the streets in Lowry’s painting is intense and resilient, always in search of the new. A crowd gathers instantly at a street fight or a strike meeting or around a woman’s body dragged from the canal.
Lowry was an enemy of ‘sentiment’ in art. He made his living as a rent collector, which meant he had daily access to the detail of poverty and respectability in the slums. But his art never claimed false comradeship with the world it took as its subject. He was an outsider. The streets were gloomy to him, but magnificent. ‘I was inspired by their beauty’, he said. This exhibition shows his long struggle to give that beauty form.