PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE BRITISH COLLECTION
Station Approach, Manchester stands as an important document of one of Manchester’s historic landmarks, the London and North Western Railway Exchange Station, built in 1884 and closed in 1969. Located just north of the city centre, Exchange Station originally provided alternative routes to London Euston but was principally the major artery for services to key junctions in the midlands such as Liverpool Lime Street, Huddersfield, Leeds City, Hull Paragon and Newcastle Central. During the Second World War, the imposing Victorian building was bombed as part of the Christmas Manchester Blitz in 1940 and parts of the building, as evidenced in the difference between a photograph from the turn of the century (fig. 1) and Lowry's 1960 composition, were never replaced. Indeed, the painting stands as a rare example of Lowry staying almost true to the architecture before him in this near identical rendering of the view up Victoria Street and on to the remainder of the Victorian façade beyond, which by 1960 had been partially demolished. Instead of the composite landscapes which he typically favoured, drawing together different buildings, roads and monuments to create an imagined scene before him, here the artist pays homage to a cityscape that he was particularly fond of, editing it only very slightly with the addition of the viaduct and the line of buildings to the left hand side of the composition, which he probably drew from the nearby Greengate district. The busy, bustling crowds swell around the large sculpture of Oliver Cromwell, presented to the city in 1875, down Victoria Street, across the River Irwell and on to the station building beyond. In terms of its activity, the composition stands as one of the greatest renderings by the artist of en masse movement, alongside works such as Going to the Match (fig. 2, 1953, Professional Footballers Association, sold in these rooms, 1st December 1999, lot 40) and Piccadilly Circus, London (1960), which was included in the same sell-out show at Alex. Reid & Lefevre Ltd, London in 1961 as Station Approach and which formed the highlight of the recent sale Lowry: The A.J. Thompson Collection (fig. 3, Private Collection, sold in these rooms, 25th March 2014, lot 14). As in Piccadilly Circus, London, Lowry’s crowds litter the foreground, with a richly varied palette that draws the viewer’s eye up and across the composition. Through his refined, artful positioning of the many figures within the scene, Lowry captures a post-work buzz; an army of workers in the mills and offices of the city heading home to the suburbs and beyond.
With his characteristic use of thick, chalky flake white impasto to the sky the artist gives a sense of the smoggy industrial heart of the North, depicting it as a centre of manufacture and industry. Unlike his many unpopulated cityscapes crammed full of smoking chimneys, here Lowry presents the very human aspects of this working class environment that he lived and worked within throughout his life. Each little figure in this grand composition plays a role and has a character, whether it is the mother being dragged across the busy road by her impatient child, the sulking bowler-hatted business man walking against the flow of the crowd in the bottom right-hand corner, the tourists who pause to admire the towering figure of Cromwell in the foreground or the dog which sits to the left of them, patiently and silently observing the scene unfolding before him. It is this striking individuality of the figures included that makes the present work stand out as amongst the finest of his oeuvre and perhaps one of the artist’s last true masterpieces. Of a scale similar to the five vast canvases he created in the early 1950s as part of the Arts Council exhibition for the Festival of Britain, Lowry was taken with this new, larger format and the artistic scope that this offered. Each of these works, all over five feet wide and now housed in the most important public collections in Britain, reflects the resurgence of ambition in the work of an artist well into his sixties. Whilst his infamous depictions of London’s Piccadilly Circus or the pleasure beaches of Lytham St Anne’s display an almost touristic fascination, Lowry’s paintings of his native Manchester, the world he knew most intimately, undoubtedly showcase the artist at his very best.
This captivating and monumental work holds an important position amongst the most significant works created throughout his career. It epitomises everything that Lowry has become known and loved for, through a particular skill of execution and clarity of vision. Its position within the history of the development of England’s industrial heartland is paramount, but perhaps most importantly through the artist’s rendering of all the hustle and bustle before him, it remains as vivid and exciting now as it was upon its creation nearly half a century ago.
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