A street in Droylsden
Pencil: 13.5(h) x 9.5(w) in /
34.3(h) x 24.1(w) cm
Signed and dated 1952
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LAURENCE STEPHEN LOWRY RA, RBA, LG, NS
Manchester 1887 – 1976 Glossop
A street in Droylsden
Signed and dated lower left: L.S. Lowry 1952; signed and inscribed with the title on a label attached to the reverse
Pencil on paper: 13 ½ x 9 ½ in / 34.3 x 24.1 cm
Frame size: 24 × 19 in / 61 × 48.3 cm
A gift from the artist to Henry Robinson, Director of Education for Rochdale College of Art, 1952, then by descent
Droylsden in Tameside lies four miles east of Manchester city centre. Daisy Nook Country Park (celebrated in Lowry’s painting Lancashire Fair, Good Friday, Daisy Nook, 1946, Government Art Collection) sits on the boundary of Droylsden, Ashton and Failsworth. Crime Lake, painted by the artist in 1942 (private collection), was another popular local bank-holiday destination between the towns of Droylsden and Failsworth. Like most towns in Greater Manchester, Droylsden rapidly developed over the course of the nineteenth century, its transport links via canal, rail and road making it an attractive site for industry. Factories and mills replaced the traditional farming industry and by 1850 five cotton mills had been established in Droylsden, increasing to eight by 1875, the last built in 1906. Perhaps most notably, W.M. Christy & Sons of Fairfield Mills in Droylsden produced the first machine woven towel in the world – the terry towel – in 1851 and James Robertsons and Sons Ltd opened its celebrated jam works in Droylsden in 1890.
Though the driving force of the factories and mills in the lives of the working classes had waned by the time Lowry came to represent them, these striking structures still dominated the skyline of the streets of Greater Manchester. The power of the mills is superbly conveyed in this drawing of A street in Droylsden, the compositional format echoing the monumental industrial chimney. Lowry recognised the truth and visual impact of this vertiginous silhouette early in his career in drawings such as View from a window of the Royal Technical College, Salford, 1924 (The Lowry, Salford), his use of the pencil lending itself beautifully to the suggestion of soot covered buildings and smoke smothered streets.
During the 1950s, it is thought that Lowry taught at Rochdale School of Art and became friends with its Principal, Leo Solomon and the Director of Education, Henry Robinson, to whom the present work was gifted. In 1952, a year after his first retrospective at Salford City Art Gallery, Lowry retired on a full pension from the Pall Mall Property Company.
LAURENCE STEPHEN LOWRY RA
Manchester 1887 – 1976 Glossop
Sir Hugh Casson, in his preface to the 1976 Royal Academy Memorial exhibition, referred to L S Lowry as ‘one of the great English painters of this century’. An individual artist with a unique style, Lowry’s work spans the first half of the twentieth century, recording with sensitivity and wit his own personal view of the people and architecture of the industrial north.
Born in Manchester in 1887, Laurence Stephen Lowry was the only child of Robert and Elizabeth Lowry. He started drawing at the age of eight and in 1903 began private painting classes which marked the start of a part-time education in art that was to continue for twenty years. In 1904, aged 16, he left school and secured a job as a clerk in a chartered accountants’ firm; he remained in full-time employment until his retirement at the age of 65. His desire to be considered a serious artist led him to keep his professional and artistic life completely separate and it was not disclosed until after his death that he had worked for most of his life.
Lowry’s early training was at the Municipal College of Art, Manchester. There he was taught by the French artist Adolphe Valette who introduced him to Impressionism and of whom he said: ‘I owe so much to him for it was he who first showed me good drawings by the great masters… he gave me the feeling that life drawing was a very wonderful thing.’ Lowry was, however, unaffected by Valette’s impressionist technique and continued to develop a more realistic approach to his art.
In 1909 Lowry and his parents moved to Pendlebury, where initially he was not happy, and for some years ignored his surroundings. In 1916, whilst waiting for a train, he became fascinated by the workers leaving the Acme Spinning Company Mill; the combination of the people and the surroundings was a revelation to him and marked the turning point in his artistic career. He now began to explore the industrial areas of South Lancashire and discovered a wealth of inspiration, remarking ‘My subjects were all around me … in those days there were mills and collieries all around Pendlebury. The people who work there were passing morning and night. All my material was on my doorstep.’
By 1920 Lowry’s street scenes, peopled with workers, housewives and children set against a backdrop of industrial buildings and terraced houses, had become central to his highly personal style. From now on he painted entirely from experience and believed that you should ‘paint the place you know’. His leisure time was spent walking the streets of Manchester and Salford making pencil sketches on scraps of paper and the backs of used envelopes, recording anything that could be used in his work. In his early factory scenes the emphasis is placed on the buildings and the atmosphere was often dark and sombre; however, as he developed this theme the figures became more prominent and eventually he arrived at a marriage between the two where the figures and surroundings form a whole.
By the 1930s Lowry had established his own particular style. He was encouraged by his teacher Bernard Taylor to try to make his figures and buildings stand out more and he began to experiment with setting them against a white background. He chose ‘flake white’, building up layer after layer on the canvas before painting the subject matter straight on top. He used only five other colours: vermilion, Prussian blue, ivory, black and ochre, which he applied straight from the tube.
With the onset of the modernisation of the industrial north in the mid-1950s Lowry lost interest in his surroundings and now concentrated almost entirely on figures silhouetted against a white background, occasionally standing on a hint of a pavement or near a ghost of a wall, but frequently suspended in time and space. He continued to sketch and closely observe his subjects and his works form this period capture the essence of Northern people; he frequently mixes young and old and he imparts to each figures an individual character. Shelly Rohde in A private view of L S Lowry comments: ‘he had a new obsession, his single figures, his grotesques. The struggling, surging, misshapen homunculi who used to live for so long in the shadow of the mills emerging at last from their background to stand alone, as he stood alone’.
Visits to Wales in the 1960s with his friend and patron Monty Bloom briefly revived Lowry’s interest in industrial scenes. He was impressed by the contrast between the industrial towns and the surrounding countryside; consequently his paintings from this period are brighter than his Lancashire paintings. However, towards the end of the 1960s Lowry began to lose his creative urge and, with the exception of the occasional moment of artistic inspiration, he ceased painting almost entirely.
Laurence Stephen Lowry died of pneumonia in 1976, aged 88. Although he had received critical acclaim for his work during the second half of his life, he never forgot the lack of recognition that he had received initially and he carried with him the feeling of isolation and rejection throughout his career. He refused the offer of a knighthood, as well as numerous other honours, and remained disillusioned with the art world despite the praise that was heaped upon him.
Lowry is remembered as a man of remarkable resilience and sensitivity; he stood alone, unaffected by the influences of other artists and his inspiration came entirely from his own experience. His paintings and drawings are now included in most important private and public collections in the United Kingdom and abroad and his unique works continue to receive the critical acclaim that he so richly deserves.