Modern & Post-War British Art

Discoveries: Two Drawings by L.S. Lowry

By Mark Stephen
Two discoveries consigned using our online request an estimate service were L.S. Lowry's Study of a Nude (sold for £10,625) and Trawler in a Rough Sea (sold for £40,000).

L owry's Study of a Nude is a very early work, probably from a life drawing class from the time Lowry attended the Manchester Municipal College of Art. Trawler in a Rough Sea is a comparatively late work of 1960, drawn during one of Lowry’s many visits to Sunderland at a time when the artist began to concentrate on seascapes.

The buyer of the drawings met Lowry in the 1950s when, as an assistant solicitor, he used to eat lunch at Ridgeways basement restaurant, opposite the Manchester library. He was joined one day by a 'very quietly spoken reserved gentleman' who he later discovered was L.S. Lowry. It became the first of many lunches at Ridgeways.

In 1960, they met again by chance at dinner in a hotel in London. They talked about Lancashire and Lowry’s love of going to football to study the fans on the terraces and discussed his art and the limited palette of colours he used. The solicitor was not an art collector, but after a chance meeting with a gallery owner in London a decade later, seized the opportunity to buy the trawler and the nude. They cost him £625, so even after inflation the rise in value has been substantial.

Lowry was an intriguing character. His father struggled to make a living and they moved from a leafy residential area to a house in industrial Pendlebury. When his father died with debts to pay, and his mother retired to bed for the rest of her life, Lowry found he could not give up work but had to continue his job as a debt collector and agent for a property company, look after his mother, and find the time to paint, only by working late at night. Painting became a release for him and something he had to do. Even late in his life, he still painted every day. In a televised interview he recounts how he became obsessed with Pendlebury, and in particular the factory workers leaving the mills and the unfortunate characters and 'cripples' on the streets with whom he clearly identified, often remarking 'There but for the Grace of God…' It is these industrial landscapes for which he is now best known. He was aware that critics derided his figures and his reply was 'All I do is to paint figures as I see them. If they like to call them matchstick figures it doesn’t concern me.'

After the war, Lowry increasingly painted seascapes and landscapes, usually with a bleak melancholy quality, often empty and desolate, bordering on abstraction. In an interview he said of the sea 'What interests me here of course is the vastness of it and the terribleness of it. It is very fearsome to my way of thinking'. When he added a ship to the composition, the ship was invariably painted black like the arrival in port of a gloomy hearse.

As a man, he clearly liked routine and wore a black tie every day, so he did not have to choose a colour. He listened to opera as he painted, he never went abroad, never owned a car, and according to one memoir had a telephone that barred incoming calls. He did however achieve fame and success in his own lifetime. The Lefevre Gallery hosted his first one-man show in 1939 and Salford Art Gallery collected his works. He then purchased the Elms at Mottram-in-Longendale, furnishing his house with numerous clocks so there was always a variety of ticking in the background. He collected Pre-Raphaelite works, mostly Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s beautiful women, at a time when such works were very out of fashion.

The drawing of the nude was executed when Lowry was around 19 years old and still learning his craft. It appears to be a life class study, and being naturalistic, nothing like his later oils of factory workers, the so-called matchstick-men which seem to be isolated in their own world and own space. The trawler at sea, of 1960 has a Lefevre Gallery label on the back, a desirable provenance. The figures with their small dog executed with three or four lines are remarkable. The rough sea and the sky swirled with rain clouds are typical of Lowry’s preference for painting the 'terribleness of the sea'.

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