In the autumn of 1945, Lowry travelled down from his home in Pendlebury, to visit fellow artist David Carr at his home in Norfolk. They had first met in 1943 and had struck up a close friendship, with Carr, from a wealthy biscuit-making family, becoming an enthusiastic supporter and avid collector of Lowry’s work. Lowry, too, was an admirer of Carr's work, writing with some excitement in anticipation of his visit: ‘I haven’t been ever in these parts and I am looking forward to seeing your pictures too’ (the Artist, quoted in Shelley Rhodes, L.S. Lowry, A Biography, The Lowry Press, Manchester, 1979/1987/1999, p.321).
Like many towns and cities in Britain in the first half of the twentieth century Norwich’s economy was reliant on the import and export of traded goods. With the winding waterways of the River Wensum bringing in daily cargos of grain and goods, the city prospered. The family firm of R.J. Read Ltd was founded in the late 19th Century and moved to new premises on King Street in the early 1930s. Here they found an ample-sized mill, with a large river frontage and wharves large enough to enable sea-faring vessels to dock and unload their cargoes. The mill maintained production throughout the course of the Second World War, despite heavy bombing of the city.
Fascinated by water, and the ample artistic opportunities that it offered, Lowry incorporated it into his compositions wherever he could, whether in the vast expanses of his later empty seascapes, the pleasure pursuits on the beaches of Lytham St Annes, or the canals and waterways that played so central a role in Britain’s economy. The mid-1940s saw a number of works focusing on this theme, including Industrial Landscape – The Canal (1945, Leeds City Art Gallery), Worsley Coal Barge (1946, Private Collection), Shield Hall Docks (1946, Private Collection), Ship Entering Princess Dock, Glasgow (1947, Private Collection) and Lowestoft Harbour (1947, Private Collection) and there can be little surprise in Lowry’s desire to include Norwich in this bustling mix, being a city founded on maritime trade.
As in many of his works based on non-Manchester subjects, the scene he presents is strikingly accurate, as opposed to the composite industrial scenes he created out his more immediate locale, such as A River Bank (1947, sold in these rooms, 25th March 2014, lot 6, for £1,986,500), which takes in multiple views of Manchester’s River Irwell as its source. Worked up from a pencil sketch of 1946, the present work is alive with activity, highlighting the relationship between industry and the everyday life, with the city centre visible in the distance. Lowry was doubtlessly attracted to the scene for the universal and timeless portrayal of British industry that it presented. Here, as in his busy and bustling scenes depicting the Accrington canal, tall red-bricked buildings loom over the tranquil waters, with the characteristic scattering of local children accompanied by their four-legged friend. As artists such as John Piper found employment through the War Artist’s Advisory Scheme in capturing buildings and monuments of national importance, Lowry turned his attention instead to an unofficial and more everyday recording of Britain’s towns and cities, capturing industrial life up and down the country, focusing, as he always did, on the everyday life of Britain’s working classes.
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