A remarkable drawing by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887 – 1976), titled A Lancashire Landscape, has entered Scotland’s national collection with thanks to the Acceptance in Lieu (AIL) scheme. Hannah Brocklehurst, Curator of European and Scottish Art, looks at the work and Lowry's influences.
Scenes of urban life
Lowry’s scenes of life in the industrial districts of Greater Manchester are some of the most recognisable images in British art. A Lancashire Landscape is an outstanding example, in which almost all of Lowry’s favourite and most distinctive motifs can be found: smoking chimneys, lamp posts, railings, telegraph poles, passing groups of people - and a little dog walking alone along the pavement. Like most of his townscapes, the view is a composite, in which buildings and anecdotes sketched from life or recalled from memory, are brought together in one carefully composed scene. In this relatively early drawing, we are presented with both a street scene across the foreground and an open industrial panorama beyond.
Painting in pencil
A Lancashire Landscape joins a painting oil by Lowry in our collection, the spectacular Canal and Factories, 1955, which was purchased in 1975. Although best-known as a painter, Lowry had a lifelong love of pencil drawing. As a young man, it was through drawing that he first became engaged in art and, throughout his career, he developed the ideas for his subjects through endless sketching on the streets. As a part-time student at Manchester Municipal School of Art from 1905-15 he studied drawing after the antique, freehand and figure drawing but chose no classes in painting. According to Lowry, compared to painting: ‘…a drawing is every bit as important, and sometimes a damned sight more effective. Besides, it is more difficult to do; for one thing, you haven’t got colour to get you out of a mess’.
In A Lancashire Landscape Lowry makes use of both hard and soft pencils. He employs thumb and fingertips, as well as an eraser, to create tonal and atmospheric effects - in this case evoking the haze of industrial smoke. The foreground figures are fully rounded, with details picked out using lines of harder pencil. During the period in which he made this drawing, Lowry’s work was moving towards a greater use of more abstract and impressionistic ‘matchstick’ figures, as seen in the distance.
Lowry and ‘The Manchester Impressionist’
Lowry is not an artist who can be definitively associated with any particular artistic movement or school. However, his most important formative influence was without question his teacher and mentor at the Municipal College of Art, the impressionist Pierre Adolphe Valette (1876–1942). A generation younger than the most famous impressionist painters, Valette lived in Manchester from around 1905 until 1928, during which time he made the industrial landscapes of Manchester and Salford the subject of his highly atmospheric pictures.
In 1907 Lowry saw the work of other impressionists exhibited in Manchester. Like the impressionists and Valette, Lowry was not interested in simply depicting a scene, but in capturing and conveying the atmosphere and the essence of a subject. In his focus on the modern industrial city and life around him, his subjects demonstrate parallels with not only Valette’s ‘Manchester-scapes’, but also with Georges Seurat’s images of Paris and Camille Pissarro’s pictures of Rouen. Though he never visited France (or travelled abroad), during the 1920s and 30s Lowry regularly submitted works to the Paris salons, where he showed more consistently than in London or Manchester and was better-known than many of the more established British artists.
A Lancashire Landscape was one of two Lowry drawings owned by ‘Britain’s best-selling novelist’ Howard Spring (1889–1965). In Spring’s first full novel Shabby Tiger (published 1934) one character states: ‘There are only two painters in Manchester with any guts at all – L. S. Lowry and myself.’ This is an early popular reference, made long before Lowry’s name was widely established. Prior to joining the collection at the National Galleries of Scotland, the drawing was owned by the collectors Garth and Alison Doubleday, who purchased it in 2007.
By Hannah Brocklehurst, Curator of European and Scottish Art.