Lefevre Gallery, London
where acquired by private collections, 1950s
DescriptionSince his death in 1976, Lowry's position as perhaps the most popular British artist of the century has been secured, and he has been the subject of many exhibitions and publications. However, the growing appreciation of his whole oeuvre has allowed us greater opportunity to look at these less familiar elements of his work. One theme that strikes any observer of his paintings, and which recurs increasingly in the latter part of his career, is that of solitude.
In 1968, and thus before the painters death, the Crane Kalman Gallery held a pioneering exhibition, The Loneliness of L.S. Lowry, which was the first to focus on the element of unquiet and distance from the world in his work and was a genuine surprise to those more familiar with the archetypical 'industrial' Lowry. Within this body of work, it is the empty landscapes, the single figure compositions, the outcasts and perhaps most of all, the sea paintings and lake landscapes that evoke this sense.
Devoid of the buildings and the figures that so often are taken to define Lowry, the viewer is thrown into an unfamiliar and disquieting position. The very austerity of these paintings forces us not only to address an entirely different aspect of an artist with whom we think ourselves conversant, but also to look at these landscapes and seascapes with full recognition of their potential harshness. These are not the idyllic English landscapes of wooded vales, nor are they the gently rolling seas of the Cornish Riviera. These are empty and bleak moors where one can easily lose ones bearing in the mist and grey vistas. The Reservoir has an air of familiarity to anyone who knows the great reservoirs that collect the waters of the Pennines and feed the cities of Lancashire and Yorkshire, the wide expanse of flat water always seems just a little at odds with the landscape around them, which of course as manmade constructions, they are. In the interwar and post-war periods they were seen as a new leisure resource and the hiking clubs and rambler’s societies that flourished at this time to offer workers a respite from the smog of the cities made them popular destinations. However, the creation of these huge enterprises frequently entailed the destruction of villages and hamlets, and local legends of drowned church bells tolling beneath the silent waters grew up. Indeed in some cases, such as at Ladybower reservoir, the spire of the village church was occasionally visible at very low water until it was dynamited in 1947.
This sense of a place slightly outside the everyday, a place of escape, is a key feature of much of Lowry’s work. His fascination with buildings marooned as progress happened around then, districts derelict and defunct, the people one step off the pace of conventional life is a constant in his painting and allows us to see how the empty landscapes and seascapes also follow this same aesthetic and exude a similar atmosphere.