L.S Lowry biography in Biographies from the artzine on artrepublic.com
LS Lowry is known for his paintings of industrial landscapes of the north of England. His stylised pictures of coalmines, factories and terraced houses were mostly painted around Pendlebury and Salford, near Manchester. He is best known for urban landscapes peopled with human figures known as “matchstick men.”
Lowry was born in Stretford, Lancashire, in 1887. In interviews later in his life, Lowry maintained that his childhood had been unhappy, growing up in a repressive family atmosphere. He began to draw at the age of 8 and at 15 began attending private painting classes. On leaving school in 1904, Lowry began work in Manchester as a clerk with a firm of chartered accountants. He studied painting and drawing in the evenings at the Municipal College of Art (1905-15) and at Salford School of Art (1915-25).
Despite his unusually long period as an art student, Lowry considered himself to be a self-taught artist. He had, however, learnt how French Impressionism has changed the painting of the modern city, and was aware of current trends in Modern Art from exhibitions he attended in Manchester. He deeply admired the Pre-Raphaelite artists, such as Ford Madox Brown and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. In an interview with Merbyn Levy he also expressed his admiration for the work of René Magritte and Lucian Freud, although he admitted that he "didn't understand" Francis Bacon's work.
In 1910, Lowry became a rent collector and clerk with the Pall Mall Property Company in Manchester; he remained a full-time employee until his retirement in 1952. Lowry’s job led him walking all over the city, “I saw the industrial scene and I was affected by it. I tried to paint it all the time… It wasn’t easy.” His was a keen sketcher and felt that drawings were as difficult to create as paintings. He was always doing sketches on the spot in pencil or charcoal on the back of envelopes, serviettes and cloakroom tickets.
His paintings were carefully composed in a painting room at home. He used a very basic range of colours, which he mixed on his palette and painted on a white background. He worked the paint with brushes, but also with his fingers, sticks and nails. “I am a simple man, and I use simple materials: ivory, black, vermilion (red), Prussian blue, yellow ochre, flake white and no medium (e.g. linseed oil). That’s all I’ve ever used in my paintings. I like oils.” Lowry painted in a suit, wiping the brushes on his lapels and sleeves.
Lowry is often represented as a reclusive man, but his affection for relatives and close friends can be seen in paintings such as ‘Portrait of the Artist’s Mother’ (1910). He had a long-lasting friendship with Salford artist Harold Riley. He also befriended and bought works from young artists he admired, such as Cumbrian artist Sheila Fell. She later described him as “a great humanist. To be a humanist, one first has to love human beings, and to be a great humanist, one has to be slightly detached from them.”
Lowry’s father died in 1932 and for the next seven years, his 73 year old mother became bedridden and dependent on her son for care. She demanded his attention and he would only get to his painting room late at night after she had settled. He once said, “She did not understand my painting, but she understood me and that was enough.” She died in 1939, the year Lowry tasted success with his first London exhibition. Many of the paintings he produced during this period were damning self-portraits demonstrate the influence of Expressionism, possibly inspired by an exhibition of Van Gogh’s work at Manchester Art Gallery in 1931.
After the outbreak of war, Lowry served as a volunteer fire watcher and became an official war artist in 1943. As a war artist Lowry drew the ruined shells of bombed-out buildings. In 1953, he was appointed Official Artist at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. In 1962 he was elected a Royal Academician. Lowry remained unconcerned by his growing fame and commercial success, choosing to remain from 1948 to his death in the same small, un-modernised house in Cheshire.
He painted and drew into his old age. He died of pneumonia aged 88 in 1976 just months before a retrospective exhibition opened at the Royal Academy. The show broke all attendance records for a twentieth century artist. During his life time Lowry rejected five honours, including a knighthood in 1968, and consequently he holds the record for the most rejected British honours.
Lowry left a cultural legacy, with his works selling for millions of pounds and inspiring other artists. The Lowry in Salford Quays opened in 2000. The gallery is the largest collection of Lowry’s work, housing 55 paintings and 278 drawings. In January 1968, rock band Status Quo paid tribute to Lowry in their single ‘Pictures of Matchstick Men’. Manchester rock band Oasis also released a music video for the ‘The Masterplan’ using animation in the style of Lowry’s paintings.
“If people call me a Sunday painter I’m a Sunday painter who paints every day of the week.” (LS Lowry)
“Most of my land and townscape is composite. Made up; part real and part imaginary… bits and pieces of my home locality. I don’t even know I’m putting them in. They just crop up on their own, like things do in dreams.” (LS Lowry)
"You don't need brains to be a painter, just feelings." (LS Lowry)
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