Lowry was always attracted to examples of architectural idiosyncrasy, and in The Steps we can see exactly that. The composition is dominated by a run of incredibly steep steps that zigzag up the centre of the image, and are typical of the alleyways and shortcuts that can be found in the backwaters of most industrial cities. Lowry was greater observer of such features, and it is often possible to trace the path of such a motif from initial in situ sketch, via a more worked drawing to the final painting. Frequently spanning a number of years, this working process is a clear indication of the very careful way in which Lowry selects each element of his compositions to ensure that the correct effect is achieved.
In The Steps, we are led up to the very top of the picture plane where a low wall runs right across the image. Topped by railings, there is no indication of what might be beyond, but by focusing the composition around this sliver of sky and the top of the steps, Lowry cunningly leaves the viewer intrigued. Other works that include steep steps or pathways often achieve a similar effect, for instance A Footbridge (sold in these rooms, 1st December 1999, lot 42), or the superb 1929 drawing Junction Street, Stony Brow, Ancoats (Coll.Manchester City Art Gallery), and it seems as though Lowry was well aware of how he could use this device to achieve a specific end and imbue his paintings with rather more than a literal transcription of topography.
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