Lot 8
  • 8

Laurence Stephen Lowry, R.A.

100,000 - 150,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Laurence Stephen Lowry, R.A.
  • The Spire
  • signed and dated 1949.
  • oil on panel
  • 27.5 by 37cm.; 10¾ by 14½in.


Crane Kalman Gallery, London, where acquired by Bobby Willis and Cilla Black, December 1973

Catalogue Note

The Spire is, in many ways, a highly typical work by Lowry. This dour street of workers' terraces (with the slightly grander building to the left no doubt split down into crowded lodgings) is a classic Manchester scene, one that Lowry would have observed everyday on his rounds as a rent collector – a career he continued even when he could have lived comfortably of the proceeds of his painting. What might have drawn him to this street in particular is the church looming somewhat menacingly over the squat terraces. This and the large, neo-Classical building to the right, most likely a Methodist hall, create a play between the public and the domestic that Lowry loved to sow subtly into his paintings, setting out the certainties of working class life – birth, marriage, death and work.

What is typical too is that against this back-drop (and Lowry’s work always has an element of theatre to it) the artist has arranged small groups of figures, some loosely forming a crowd, others isolated and alone with their thoughts, all wrapped up against a pervading cold. These figures are usually dressed predominantly in black, but Lowry here takes the chance to add some painterly flair in the contrasts between the women’s long skirts and the shawls wrapped tightly around their shoulders. It is a passage such as this – finished in the bright red dot of the do-walker’s hat – that belies the notion of Lowry as an ‘unsophisticated’ painter.

What makes The Spire slightly unusual, however, is in the manner in which it is painted. By 1949, Lowry had already honed his unique style of creating landscapes of sharply delineated architecture set against dirty white skies and pavements, a deliberately abstract approach designed to connote the hardness of city life and to isolate his figures, drawing them out from their environment and thus giving them weight and individuality. The Spire, on the other hand, is suffused with a brooding, smoky atmosphere, with a much narrower tonal range than one associates more with Lowry works of the 1920s – not the 1940s.

The 1920s were the period when Lowry was still very much under the influence of the painter Adolphe Valette, an Impressionist of the Parisian tradition, who painted the grimy streets and broiling wharves of Manchester in misty hues of brown, blue and black. Valette also taught during his time in Manchester and Lowry was, perhaps unsurprisingly, his most dedicated pupil, as he too had already decided that Manchester would be his subject. The Spire, then, can be seen as Lowry revisiting both his master Valette and his own work of the 1920s, a Proustian recherche du temps perdu, albeit glimpsed from the top deck of the bus to Pendlebury.