The present lot is a fine example of the work that L.S. Lowry is famed for: a poignant insight into the daily lives and busy cityscapes of industrial England in the mid-twentieth century. In A Street of Clitheroe, the artist presents a scene where a seemingly rather eclectic group of people gather together for a jovial local community occasion.
Throughout his career, Lowry returned to paint the small parish town of Clitheroe in Lancashire on a number of occasions. Clitheroe, located in the Ribble Valley in Lancashire, was a quiet and more modest town than Lowry’s usual subjects and instead reveals his interest in the more intimate aspects of city life in this period of his career.
In the present scene, Lowry offers a vantage point which shows us two sides of a street which surround a cluster of buildings in the middle. The right side is much busier than the other, as it holds two doorways where these respective events are taking place, which are most likely the opening of shops. Clitheroe was renowned for being a shopping hub of its time, having a vast selection of fashion boutiques, fresh produce and other miscellaneous general stores.
The colours used in the foreground of A Street in Clitheroe are bright and poppy in comparison to the more muted palette of the background, which contributes towards the sense of perspective and depth in the work. Lowry often conveyed the sense of scale of the towns he depicted in his paintings; perhaps here we can tell that a Clitheroe is a smaller town than some of the bigger industrial ones that feature elsewhere in his paintings.
Lowry has ordered the space and carefully constructed the composition of the present lot to suggest a sense of scale to the different buildings in this piece. He has created a low vantage point which gives a feeling of the viewer themselves being an active member, rather than just an onlooker of this amiable scene. The presence of the factory with a smoking chimney is minimised and instead, precedence is given to the church on the right-hand side of the work – perhaps symbolising its central role for this community. This gives a sense of contemporaneity and liveliness to the piece, as the figures are out for a purpose rather than just appearing to be in a carefully stylised scene by the artist.
Lowry’s street scenes are often populated with various residents and characters in his work, and the artist took great care and thought over each and every figure. In A Street of Clitheroe, you can begin to understand the individual traits and lives of many of the figures and an insight into their pasts and presents is revealed by the way they interact with those around them.
These are the cities which were highly prominent in building the modern world we know today, and the people are evocative of many of Lowry and his friends’ families, ancestors and own friends.
Born and raised in Manchester, Lowry commenced evening classes in fine art and free-hand drawing as a teenager. He later studied at the Manchester Academy of Fine Art and the Salford Royal Technical College. Claiming to be a largely self-taught artist, Lowry learned from other artists at exhibitions and museum collections in Manchester, and a range of other teachers who entered and departed his career at different points.
Lowry was a modest artist and very much felt himself to be part of these communities – he did not see himself as the kind of artist who had a higher status or vantage point to such scenes. For his ‘day’ job, Lowry worked as a rent collector for the Pall Mall Property Company and in fact preferred to keep his artwork a secret. It was this job that led to Lowry traveling to many towns and cities in and around Manchester, providing him with lots of fruitful artistic material and experiences. He valued scenes of children playing in the street, people returning from work, chatting on doorsteps, and dancing on the streets just as much as emptier, more grandiose scenes of buildings.
From these eclectic experiences, Lowry was able to develop a truly individual and distinctive style. His choice of subject matter – every day scenes of normal lives in Northern England – rather than rural, perhaps more idyllic scenes, make him so respected as a pioneering artist today. For every scene he depicts, he brings a sense of imagination and creative spirit.
In his time, Lowry also saw the effects of war on both a local and national scale. This changed the urban scenes and routines of British peoples, as buildings had been destroyed and people came to prosper more after a time of rationing and loss.
His success came slightly delayed in his lifetime, only becoming a famed and popular artist in the later years in his life. His commitment to his own personal style and subjects that he had familiarised himself with on a close and personal scale made him the nationally treasured artist he is today. He died aged 88 in 1976 just months before a retrospective exhibition of his paintings opened at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, which was a record-breaking exhibition.
The present work was acquired by the prominent dealer A. Leggat and then passed on to the Crane Kalman Gallery, London, whose founder, Andras Kalman, was a lifelong friend and supporter of Lowry and other key twentieth century British artists, including those that he felt were underrepresented in their lifetimes. He was one of the dealers that shaped Lowry’s legacy and shared his art with the world, which still leaves a relatable and prominent impression on many today.