Lowry has caught Piccadilly in rush hour and a busy crowd bustles around Eros. We are distanced from the people who Lowry has deliberately reduced to mere outlines of colour with the flick of a brush, whilst retaining their individuality and expressive movements. Lowry in this work has focused on mass-movement, the patterns and rhythms of the `hurry of the city’ as people run to catch a train or nip past a van and avoid an approaching bus. Yet despite the chaos, there is a core of stillness to the work around the imposing black silhouette of the Eros fountain where we find a more relaxed gathering of people standing, possibly waiting for the traffic to pass. Indeed, whilst many figures are so hurried they appear almost diagonal, Lowry in this crowd, has cleverly mixed the paces, adding a few who trudge, hands in pockets, and figures who amble along in conversation while some pause admiring each other’s dogs. The coterie of carefully differentiated figures heading in all directions includes the familiar cast: women, children, businessmen, the elderly, together with their hats, scarves, umbrellas, walking-sticks, handbags, suitcases and even a pram. The choreographed placement of the groups is essential for the balance of the composition. Spalding comments on Lowry’s depiction of the crowd: `This is the secret of Lowry’s crowd scenes. It is not the individuals, though each has character, but the way they relate to each other, echo or counteract each other’s shapes to build up a rhythmic pattern which creates the vitality in his scenes’ (Julian Spalding, Lowry, The Herbert Press Ltd, London, 1987, p.16).
Piccadilly Circus, London was painted at a time when Lowry’s work was particularly in demand. It was included in his famous one-man show in London on 11th October 1961. An exhibition which was so popular that the Daily Herald headlined the show with 'Sold Out - Try Again Later' alongside a photo of Lowry standing by this very painting (see pp.68-69). Shelley Rohde describes the opening: ‘On the morning of the private view, the customary hush of the Lefevre Gallery, now moved to Burton Street, was rudely disturbed by hordes of "cheque-waving admirers of the artist" ...’ (Shelley Rohde, L.S. Lowry, A Biography, The Lowry Press, Salford, 1979, p.357).
This exceptional work was previously in the collection of the hotelier, the late Lord Forte, who had owned it for over twenty years. It was auctioned in 2011, when the work sold for £5.6 million equalling the previous record-price for a painting by Lowry at auction. Since A.J. Thompson purchased the work, it has been displayed as a loan alongside the permanent collection at The Lowry and most recently included in the Tate retrospective.
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