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Details & Cataloguing

Modern & Post-War British Art

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London

Laurence Stephen Lowry, R.A.
1887-1976
THE FERRY AT BLYTH

Provenance

Alex. Reid & Lefevre Ltd, London 
Mrs R. Sangster
Crane Kalman Gallery, London, where acquired and thence gifted to the present owner in August 1991

Exhibited

London, Crane Kalman Gallery, L.S. Lowry, 30th November 1966 - 7th January 1967, cat. no.42, illustrated pl.VII.

Literature

Shelley Rohde, L.S. Lowry: A Biography, The Lowry Press, Salford Quays, 3rd ed. 1999, illustrated p.129.

Catalogue Note

The image of a ‘chain ferry’ traversing a narrow strip of cold, dirty water is in many ways a classic Lowry motif, a distinctly urban feature, with no romantic allusions to the freedom of the open seas. These ferries are something very real, a specific, functioning part of the urban landscape. There is something deeply prosaic too, as it chugs slowly, inexorably, from one side to the other, always to the same spot (marked by the bollards) and back again. Yet in Lowry’s hands, there is also something strange and magical about this everyday mode of transport. He lends it an almost surreal quality, knowingly depicting it as a ‘double-take’, as if one of his trademark terraced houses has suddenly found itself afloat. This is the genius of Lowry: no simple painter of industrial landscapes, more an observer of the strange, dislocating sights the city throws up at every corner, specifically of those moments where the fabric of the city itself takes on the same qualities of its citizens. Here the lonely ferry, bending under the weight of the crowds at its centre, feels adrift, out of place – finding its visual and emotional correspondent on the opposite bank in the tall, thin man dressed in black, arms behind his back: a man alone in a crowd, whose isolation Lowry highlights by placing the bickering (and therefore entirely engaged) children right next to him.

This man is perhaps Lowry himself, although in a typical visual play, the Artist also presents us with a figure looking straight back out towards the viewer – the heavier built man with his case, walking stick and hat. Maybe he is Lowry too: certainly between the two of them lies both painter and viewer, thus drawing us quite pointedly into the world of the picture. Again, this is an incredibly subtle technique, belying Lowry’s apparent ‘naivety’ as an Artist. From the clever little visual pun made between the smoke of the ferry and the passing goods train behind, to the way Lowry dots highlights of red from front to back, to draw the eye through the composition – this is the work of a skilled artist, a sophisticated ‘painter of modern life’ to rival the French Impressionists, which is exactly how the recent Tate retrospective (and quite rightly) positioned him.

The Ferry at Blyth is a painting rich in Lowry’s favourite devices  – two small counterpointed crowds, one close-up, one distant; the figures in those crowds, some interacting but many alone with their thoughts; the oversized child in a pram (another surreal, Beckettian image, prompting all sorts of strange possibilities); the ever-present mill, with its tiny, empty windows, symbolising the tyranny of both employment and unemployment; and the steam train, with its hard black outline, bringing fire and smoke to street level, another metaphor for work and struggle.

Whilst the present work is set in Blyth, in the North East of England, trains were always an important part of the Lowry lexicon, so present were they in and around the streets of his home-town of Salford, as they were in many major industrial cities in the early 20th Century. Manchester was certainly a railway town as well as a mill town. Yet, like many aspects of the industrial world that Lowry grew up with, by the time this picture was painted in 1963, these feisty little steam engines were already almost extinct. They stand in Lowry’s art, then, more as a symbol of the way things were – in the way that all his art can be seen as a Proustian recherche du temps perdu.

Modern & Post-War British Art

|
London