Lot 14
  • 14

Laurence Stephen Lowry, R.A.

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
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  • Laurence Stephen Lowry, R.A.
  • Outside the Factory
  • signed and dated 56
  • oil on canvas
  • 36 by 26cm.; 14 by 10in.


Gifted by the Artist to John Rowe Townsend in the late 1950s and thence by descent to the present owner


Unexamined out of frame. Original canvas. There are minor traces of very light surface dirt, but this excepting the work appears in excellent overall condition with some wonderful passages of impasto. Ultraviolet light revels no obvious signs of fluorescence or retouching. Housed in a thick painted wooden frame, behind glass. Unexamined out of frame. Please contact the department on +44 (0) 207 293 6424 if you have any questions regarding the present lot.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

In 1953 the children’s author and journalist John Rowe Townsend designed and produced the Manchester Guardian Survey of Industry; a publication that discussed the rise and fall of local industry. To illustrate the rather wordy document he looked to the city’s most popular and respected artist, L.S. Lowry. Approaching Lowry to devise an illustration for the publication, instead the artist offered an existing painting to compliment the piece, perhaps put off the idea following the less than successful commission he had undertaken in 1931 at the request of his friend and patron H.W. Timperley. Over the following years Townsend’s interest in Lowry’s work grew, supported by frequent meetings and a constant flow of correspondence, and when Lowry was elected an Associate member of the Royal Academy in 1955 Townsend wrote a profile on the artist for The Observer. Lowry was touched and wrote to Townsend promising 'I’ll do you one of my little men' – referring to his popular series of small-scale figure studies that he began producing at the time. A year went by and Townsend did not receive any ‘little men’; instead, when the artist arrived unannounced at his office one morning, he was given the beautifully composed Outside the Factory. Lowry, in his typically generous manner, offered to paint another scene if Townsend did not like the composition, which, fortunately, he did, keeping it on his wall for the following half a century, until his death earlier this year.

Never before seen in public, the painting showcases the artist at his very best; presenting the same central themes that he had focused on in his larger canvases, from the early 1920s right through the end of his life. As in some of his most famous works, such as Coming From the Mill (1930, The Lowry, Salford), the present scene shows both work and play in a single composition; the scattered milling crowds of the foreground, complete with scampering dogs seen alongside the small row of neat terraced houses, all watched over by the tall, looming chimneys of the factory that dominate the background. Through his sparse use of bold, flecked reds, Lowry artfully draws the viewer’s eye across from the lower left and up through the composition, down the diagonal road and on to the ghost-like buildings that one is just about able to make out in the distance. The scene captures the total world of the factory-worker, and the very public theatre of everyday life played out on in the streets of the early 1950s.

With his trademark use of flake white impasto, Lowry captures the bleak, smog-filled environment that he knew so well, yet imbues the scene with a certain warmth with the deep, rich reds of the buildings of the immediate foreground. With their warm hues, the houses stand apart from the cold, grey factory and their smoky surrounds, showcasing the artist’s familiarity with the urban streets that he would walk every day on his rounds as a rent collector in the city. On these rounds he would meet the locals, getting to know their personal traits and characteristics, often sketching them on scraps of paper, all of which come across in the confidence of execution in the present work. This is a scene humming with activity, whether in the woman and her unruly dog in the lower left, the small gang of children escaping up the road, or the gathering of women, deep in conversation or local gossip in the foreground. Looking closely to the centre in the immediate foreground our thoughts are drawn to the artist himself, as we see a lone, black bowler-hatted figure in a long black coat, patiently observing the drama of everyday life unfold before him.