Birthday: November 1, 1887
Died At Age: 88
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Also Known As: Laurence Stephen Lowry
Born Country: England
Born in: Stretford, Lancashire, England
Famous as: Artist
father: Robert Lowry
mother: Elizabeth Lowry
Died on: February 23, 1976
place of death: Glossop, Derbyshire, England
Cause of Death: Pneumonia
education: University of Salford, Manchester School of Art
Laurence Stephen Lowry was an English artist famous for his urban industrial landscape paintings. As a child, Lowry was fond of drawing but did not get much encouragement from his parents. After leaving school, he started attending evening art classes and continued doing so for twenty years. During the day, he worked as a rent collector for the ‘Pall Mall Property’ where he worked till he retired. He chose not to talk about his regular job as he was afraid he might not be seen as a serious artist. Lowry’s body of work is like a social documentary reflecting the British society during the industrial revolution. It comprises of bleak and grey industrial landscapes with smoke coming out of factories and mills, and figures going about their daily life. He used oil paints without any medium and utilized only five colors. Flake white was used for most of his backgrounds, while the landscapes and the figures were painted in vermillion, yellow ochre, ivory black and Prussian blue. Critics vary in their assessment of L.S. Lowry. Nevertheless, he influenced the British art scene tremendously; the public loves him and his paintings are now worth millions of pounds.
Childhood & Early Life
L. S. Lowry was born on November 1, 1887, at Stretford in Lancashire. His father, Robert, was a clerk and his mother, Elizabeth, was a musician who aspired to become a concert pianist.
Since his birth, Lowry faced his mother’s rejection; she had wanted a girl and did not want to look at her newborn baby boy. She once remarked how her sister had “three splendid daughters” while she had a “clumsy boy”.
After childbirth, Elizabeth suffered from poor health. She used this as an excuse to manipulate and dominate her affectionate and timid husband as well as her son. While Lowry’s father showed fondness for his son, he was no match for his domineering wife.
Lowry’s mother herself had had a strict upbringing and her own attitude towards her son reflected the same. She expected high standards but did not show her appreciation for anything that he did nor did she encourage his artistic abilities.
Lowry did not do well in school either academically or socially. He did not have many friends. By his own account, his childhood was an unhappy one.
After finishing school, L. S. Lowry started working as a clerk in a Manchester firm called ‘Thomas Aldred and Son’. In 1910, he started working as a clerk for the ‘Pall Mall Company’ where one of his tasks was to collect rent. In the evenings, he took drawing lessons from private tutors.
He secured a seat at the ‘Manchester School of Art’ in 1905. Here, he had the opportunity of learning from the French impressionist master Pierre Adolphe Valette. Valette had first-hand knowledge about painters like Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro which Lowry found invaluable.
In 1915, Lowry joined evening classes at the ‘Salford School of Art’ based in the ‘Royal Technical Institute’ at Salford which later became the ‘University of Salford’. He studied at the institute for ten years, and it was here that he developed an interest in industrial landscapes.
At the art school, Bernard Taylor, the art critic of ‘Manchester Guardian,’ was one of his tutors. He once remarked to Lowry that his paintings were too dark. Lowry changed his style and started painting on pure white backgrounds, a style he retained for the rest of his life.
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Life As An Artist
L. S. Lowry’s lifelong interest in industrial landscapes started when he once missed a train at the Pendlebury Station. He stood outside the ‘Acme Milling Company’ and noticed a mill turning. The scene fascinated and inspired him.
The 1920s decade was a productive one for L. S. Lowry. He worked on the industrial theme and developed his craft. He also held exhibitions in places like the ‘New English Art Club’ and the ‘Society of Modern Painters’. Bernard Taylor reviewed one of his exhibitions and wrote that Lowry ‘may make a real contribution to art’.
In 1930, he had his first solo exhibition in Manchester. The paintings depicted the Ancoats area of Manchester. All the paintings were sold and one was bought by the Manchester Art Gallery. It was during the 1930s that he started painting people. He said these were people who he had seen in real life.
In 1932, after the death of his father, L. S. Lowry became the sole caregiver of his mother and thus could paint only from 10 pm to 2 am. This was a time of immense stress and Lowry commented that all his paintings of this time were based on his own life.
L. S. Lowry’s first solo exhibition in London was held in 1939 at the Lefevre Art Gallery. By this time, he had begun to see success as a painter and had sold many of his paintings. His second exhibition at the Lefevre was cancelled due to World War II and he could exhibit there again only in 1943.
During the war years, L. S. Lowry volunteered as a fire watcher. It was in the 1940s that he finally began to find recognition as a painter. In 1943, he was made a war artist by the government to depict the experiences of the war through paintings.
In 1953, he was officially appointed as the artist for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. In his later life, Lowry continued to paint industrial landscapes but not as much as earlier. His tour to the Welsh mining villages resulted in some of his most famous works like ‘Hillside in Wales’.
L. S. Lowry also painted other landscapes. He would frequently visit the north east part of England and typically paint empty landscapes and seascapes. There are many paintings depicting seascapes visible from his room at the Seaburn hotel.
L. S. Lowry continued to work till his last years. Some of the paintings that were discovered after his death showed women in erotic settings and are called ‘mannequin’ drawings.
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The Royal Academy had a retrospective of his paintings in 1976. A record number of visitors attended this exhibition, making it the most attended exhibition for any British artist.
Awards & Achievements
The University of Manchester awarded L. S. Lowry an honorary ‘Master of Arts’ in 1945 and a ‘Doctor of Letters’ in 1961. In the 1970s, he received two honorary ‘Doctor of Letters’ from the universities of Salford and Liverpool.
In 1955, he was elected as an associate member of the ‘Royal Academy of Arts’. He became a ‘Royal Academician’ in 1962.
In 1964, his painting titled ‘The Pond’ was used by the British Prime Minister Harold Wilson for his official Christmas card. In 1968, the British postal service used his painting ‘Coming Out of School’ for a series of stamps showing works of English artists.
L.S. Lowry is also famous for the number of awards that he refused. He turned down five awards, including a knighthood, in 1968.
’The Lowry,’ named in his honor, is a visual and performing arts centre on Salford Quays. It also houses a permanent exhibition of his works.
On the occasion of his birth centenary, the Northern Ballet Theatre created a dance drama titled ‘A Simple Man’. This was broadcast on the BBC and won a BAFTA award.
Family & Personal Life
The Lowry family moved to Pendlebury in 1909 due to financial problems. L. S. Lowry was 22 years old. The industrial town was to become the subject of most of his paintings.
In 1932, Robert Lowry died, leaving the family in great financial distress. L. S. Lowry was left alone to pay off the debts and look after his mother who suffered from mental illness and was bedridden. Elizabeth Lowry passed away in 1939, leaving Lowry depressed.
In 1948, his landlord repossessed the house that he lived in when Lowry failed to maintain it. By this time, he had made enough money to buy a house in Cheshire. Having painted urban landscapes all along, Lowry found the rural landscapes uninspiring and could not bring himself to paint much.
Lowry often holidayed at the Seaburn Hotel in Sunderland. There, he would paint on anything that he could find like serviettes, envelopes, tickets, etc. These he would then give away to other holidaymakers. Today, these drawings are worth thousands of pounds.
He had inherited many clocks from his mother which he kept in his living room. These clocks all showed different times. Some sources say it was because he did not want to know the actual time while others say that he did not want all of them to start chiming together.
Lowry was a funny person who liked to tell tall tales and amuse his friends. He was a football fan and a supporter of Manchester City.
L.S. Lowry never married but had many long-lasting friendships. In 1957, a young girl named Carol Ann Lowry wrote to him asking him how to become an artist. Lowry visited the family and they became lifelong friends. He bequeathed his estate and a large collection of drawings to Carol Ann.
Lowry died on February 23, 1976, from pneumonia. He had suffered a stroke at his home that evening. He was buried next to his parents in Manchester.
The relationship between Lowry and his mother is the theme of the 2019 British film ‘Mrs. Lowry & Son’. Timothy Spall plays the role of Lowry in the film.