Lot 7
  • 7

Laurence Stephen Lowry, R.A.

300,000 - 500,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Laurence Stephen Lowry, R.A.
  • Family Group
  • signed and dated .1938.
  • oil on canvas
  • 53.5 by 43cm.; 21 by 17in.


Alex. Reid & Lefevre Ltd, London
Mrs H. Sinson
Her sale, Christie's London, 19th December 1972, lot 59
Crane Kalman Gallery, London, where acquired by Bobby Willis and Cilla Black, 1973

Catalogue Note

The subject of this painting must have been all too familiar to Cilla and Bobby, having grown up in the tougher parts of Liverpool in the 1950s: a working-class family sitting in a small back parlour in a terrace house, a meagre spread on the table, their dignity and pride sorely tested by a life of hardship. And one wonders if Cilla saw something of herself in the girl in the blue coat, with her back to the viewer, whose bright clothes stand almost as an act of defiance against the greyness of her circumstances.

There is a theatrical quality too to this painting, which may well have caught her eye: after all she was a performer whose own career followed a new generation of playwrights and film-makers – writers such as John Osborne, Alan Sillitoe, Shelagh Delaney – who took working-class life in (northern) industrial cities as their subject, these ‘Angry Young Men’ with their ‘kitchen sink’ dramas about poverty, class and the desire of the young to break free.

Lowry, of course, had made working-class life in the North his subject long before, which is something that makes him such an important a figure in 20th century British art and culture. A key influence for him, though, was also a play: Hindle Wakes, first performed in Manchester in 1912. In many ways it is the original ‘kitchen sink’ drama, centred around a holiday romance between Fanny Hawthorn and Alan Jeffcote that crosses the class divide, albeit in an unexpected way (Alan is the mill owner’s son, but it is Fanny who calls the shots). Lowry’s Family Group could easily depict a set from one of the early productions of Hindle Wakes, with its bare room, furnished with the very bare essentials of domestic life. The young boy stares out, as if about to address the audience. The other characters seem lost in thought, but perhaps preparing to say their lines. The mother, seated in profile at the centre of the work and whose presence is the most compelling, has perhaps said her piece, but it is her silence, her desperation, that binds the rest of them.

Lowry’s interest in contemporary – and often avant-garde – theatre is underplayed in accounts of his life and work, especially by those who see his art as a relatively straight rendition of life in the industrial North. Lowry, though, never painted just what he saw; like a playwright he distils elements of the real world. His genius lies in the fact that these distillations, these constructions, are so perfectly executed, and with such consistency over his career, that they feel altogether real.

For someone known for her bubbly personality, Family Group seems to be a rather dark and bleak painting for Cilla Black to have owned. Yet it represents a life she would have known growing up in Liverpool and a life that would, in fact, become an important element of self-identity in the changing circumstances of her own life and the wider transformation of working class culture in Britain in the 1960s and '70s. For as dark as Lowry’s themes may be – poverty, hunger, unemployment - in all his subjects he finds the strength that comes from this identity.