Laurence Stephen Lowry, R.A.
- Laurence Stephen Lowry, R.A.
- signed and dated 1961
- oil on canvas
- 76 by 51cm.; 30 by 20in.
The Lefevre Gallery, London
Sale, Sotheby's London, 24th November 1993, lot 95, whence purchased by the present owners
Lowry's ability to render a crowd as both a single entity and as a collection of individuals is perhaps one of the most notable features of the many thronging street scenes that he produced. Whilst in the more work-dominated compositions, such as Going to Work of 1943 (London, Imperial War Museum), the emphasis lies mostly on the sweep of the throng into the factory gates, the human element of the figures is never forgotten, and by deft touches, such as a differently coloured shawl or a noticeable hat, the drudgery of a working day is lifted just a little.
However, in his compositions that look at the free time of the people who populate Lowry's world the artist allows himself much greater freedom to investigate the quirks of the crowd and the people who make it up. Whether chatting, ambling, loitering, playing or striding purposefully across the canvas, it is in such paintings that Lowry's genius for capturing the little idiosyncrasies of behaviour is allowed full rein to bring his compositions to life. People Walking is a wonderful example of this element of his work, and by a variety of devices the artist brings his acute observation to our notice. With just the minimum of setting, a gateway in some railings, the very edges of two buildings and the suggestion of a pavement, Lowry creates a space in which his characters can go about their business. Using a loose, looping composition, the artist draws our eye through well over fifty individual studies, some of whom interact with those around them, whilst others, such as the figure leaning on the wall in the right foreground are content to merely observe. Indeed some are present only by implication, as with the dog that we assume is on the other end of the lead held by the man in the left foreground. The variety of gaits, clothes and postures offer us a vast range of character studies, as indeed might be seen on any busy street were we to take the time to look.
Painted in 1961, People Walking includes some of the occasional references to contemporary dress and manners that began to appear in Lowry's paintings around this time. Whilst many of the figures seen here conform to the standard hat and dark suit for the men and shawl and skirt for the women that had become so familiar from his earlier paintings, these forms of working class dress were by the 1960s in reality becoming much less commonly seen, although Lowry retained them in his work. However, with his unerring eye for the elements that pin down a style, he did start to include more and more figures whose dress and manners allude to a contemporary look and here, right at the centre of the composition, Lowry gives us a young couple who immediately catch our attention. With no hat and longish hair (by the standards of the time), denims and a red shirt under a short jacket, the young man is very different from the usual male figure of Lowry's streets, and the girl with him, wearing the wide skirt of the late 1950s, is similarly unlike the bowed, shawled women with which we have become familiar. They walk directly towards us, curiously unhurried, away from the busy world around them, perhaps away from the world that Lowry had recognised as slowly disappearing many years earlier.