A key aspect of some of the most celebrated works by L.S. Lowry is the sense of movement that the Artist captures within his busy, bustling scenes. In The Rush Hour (lot 15) the Artist draws the viewer to and fro with the people jostling in the street, and in The Steps, executed two years before the aforementioned work and in the year before The Ferry at Blyth (lot 17), Lowry again captures this sense of activity. In The Steps the Artist makes adept use of perspective within the composition – something that he had learnt at art school four decades before – and also one of his most favoured architectural devices – steps.
Steps were a common motif within Lowry’s paintings throughout the course of his life, and favoured perhaps because they enabled a sense of movement so easily identifiable with the viewer. The scene is filled with characters, from the mother scolding her petulant child in the bottom left, to girls leaning over the railings by the central landscape (another popular and favoured motif) and on to the older men walking with sticks in the upper left and right of the composition. The figures go about their daily lives oblivious to the fact that they are being observed and immortalised in paint. This is with the exception of the male figure in the centre foreground, to whom our eyes are immediately drawn with his bright red bow tie. Here in a scene brimming with activity we are met with a grounded figure – and one could possibly believe a self-portrait of the Artist himself, quietly observing. These were the very streets that he trod on his daily rounds as a rent collector in the city, and the characters that populate the scene are those that he was likely to have encountered.
The Steps is a composition awash with structural devices, which, by the early 1960s, Lowry had mastered to a fine art. He uses colour to guide the viewer through the composition, beginning with the child in red in the extreme bottom left, almost escaping from the canvas, and zig-zagging upwards and across the canvas with the aid of the spindly black railings and the strong, stark central lamppost. Lowry guides our eye onwards to the neat row of terraced houses framing the black cab driving away into the distance, indicating a life beyond the canvas for these subjects. Yet the painting must also be considered impressive not just in terms of its subject, technique and composition but also, importantly, in its size. At 30 by 20 inches the scene is certainly impressive to stand before, and whilst nowhere near the largest size to which the Artist worked, it is certainly amongst his largest for this sort of closely studied and detailed treatment of the characters within the scene. This is no ‘pure’ landscape, the likes of which he executed in the 1950s to a breath-taking scale, but is a domesticated scene. Here, as in other great works by the Artist, the emphasis is not on the smoking chimneys or factories, but is a Sunday-sort-of-feel. It is a scene of the people that he got to know, and the public places that he visited to sketch, continually searching and seeking inspiration for his painting, which captured a way of life that by the 1960s was already fast disappearing.
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