Lot 6
  • 6

Laurence Stephen Lowry, R.A.

120,000 - 180,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Laurence Stephen Lowry, R.A.
  • The Black Church
  • signed
  • oil on canvas
  • 35.5 by 25.5cm.; 14 by 10in.
  • Executed in 1964.


Crane Kalman Gallery, London, where acquired by Bobby Willis, May 1993, and thence gifted to Cilla Black

Catalogue Note

The Black Church is the classic Lowry of a bustling cityscape, with his trademark figures rushing hither-and-thither across the foreground, either on the way to work (the factory in the background is still belching smoke out of its chimney) or enjoying their few hours of leisure (with their children and their dogs – perhaps heading off to watch a pick-up game of football in the little brick-walled park on the left). These details suggest it is Saturday afternoon, in the days when factories were on shift for six days out of seven and so maybe the church has its door half open as there is a wedding inside.

Lowry was fascinated by these lonely, upright churches that one finds in Manchester, often marooned on patches of waste-ground between terraces and factories. In his paintings, they act as metaphors for the isolation of life in the city, the ability to be alone even when in the midst of a crowd. In their vertical form, they also have an almost human presence, an anthropomorphic quality and are often considered to stand in for the artist himself, as he stands back from the hustle and bustle of the city’s streets, watching all of life pass by.

Lowry is always at his best on a small scale, especially later on in his career when he is in full command of both his subject matter and his technique. Often misunderstood as a ‘naïve’ painter, Lowry’s ability to render a figure with just a few flicks of a tiny brush shows a technical mastery equivalent to any of the French Impressionists. Yet Lowry doesn’t just capture a sense of movement – he somehow manages to impart their cares and burdens in the bend of their legs or the curve of their shoulders. Furthermore, even in this relatively small space, Lowry is at his brilliant best in depicting a crowd as an amorphous mass with its own movement that yet simultaneously breaks down into groups and individuals, some swimming against the stream, such as the figure in the foreground in the striped jumper who stops to look out of the picture, straight at the viewer.

The painting was bought by Bobby as a present for Cilla for her 50th birthday, in part (as the family story goes) because of the pun involved in its title – although, ironically, for Lowry this church isn’t that black. One can easily imagine it also amusing Andras Kalman, Lowry’s dealer at the time, a man well-known for his good humour and lightness of touch. However, what must have drawn Bobby initially to the painting is that it encapsulates all of Lowry’s main themes, ones he and Cilla implicitly understood, in a joyful and lively composition whose energy and scope belies its small size.