L.S. Lowrys Greater Manchester, Greater ManchesterL.S. Lowry , contrary to his popular image as a simple man and almost accidental artist, was in fact a complex figure with many aspects to his character and life story - just like the Manchester and Salford where he spent most of his life.
Born in Stretford, a middle ranking sort of place in 1887, his family went down in the world when he was still young, and moved to Pendlebury where the ambiance was more industrial than genteel, more terraced than semi-detached. This was the place that gave him the cityscapes that would make his name. "I began to wonder if anyone had ever done it. Seriously, not one or two, but seriously; and it semmed to me by that time that it was a very fine industrial subject matter," as he later said.
Manchester is no longer the cotton capital of the world of course, but the best of the industrial architecture that inspired Lowry can still be seen walking along the city's canals, wandering just beyond the centre: they may now be swish loft-apartments and offices, but the solid redbrick warehouses look good for the change.
Lowry trained from 1905 to 1915 at The Manchester Municipal College of Art, now incorporated in Manchester Metropolitan University, then moved on to Salford School of Art where he attended evening classes for several more years. He was a highly skilled artist, an excellent draftsman, as seen in some of his more academic early work: his famous style was then a matter of choice: it fitted his subject. Artistic inspiration also came from his regular visits to exhibitions at The Manchester Art Gallery in Mosely Street - his Horrible Heads period was supposedly infludenced by a van Gogh exhibition there - the gallery, partly designed by Sir Charles Barry , is still around, and given it is free to view is a good stop on an artistic tour of the city.
Many of the factories he painted are long gone, and many never really existed: "Most of my land and townscape is composite. Made up; part real and part imaginary," as he said. But there are places where the subject matter endures: Piccadilly Gardens in the city centre, for example, altered but not beyond recognition from his 1954 piece; Peel Park Salford too, now a living museum well worth a visit. Street Scene with Viaduct is something that can still be seen in several side-streets in and around the centre. And at any of the football grounds in the area you can get the excitement and escape of Going to the Match, the picture bought by The Professional Footballer's Association a few years back for £1.2 million. That painting depicts Bolton's now defunct Burnden Park. Lowry, coming from Manchester, was a Manchester City fan.
From 1948 until his death in 1976 Lowry lived outside the city, in Mottram in Longdendale to the east, a more rural setting. His stone house there which he affected to dislike, The Elms, can be seen with the commemorative blue plaque outside, and about 10 yards away is a brass statue of the settlement's most famous resident.
The highlight of any exploration of Lowry and his home city though will be The Lowry Centre in Salford Quays, an ultra-modern arts complex that houses a permanent collection of his works, the most important in the world. His paintings and drawings contrast yet fit superbly with the modern space in which they are displayed. Salford Quays is a good place for non-Lowry tourism too, and for shopping.
For those with the money there is another monument to Lowry in the city, The Lowry Hotel . It may seem incongruous that this super-luxury establishment should bear Lowry's name, but it is a part of what Manchester is now, just as Lowry and the world he painted were a part of the place for three quarters of a century.
Manchester today is a very cool city, forever discovering new talent - sporting, musical, literary and artistic. Its universities reflect that vibrancy, but then so do its shops and its clubs and its museums and...If you haven't visited yet, rectify the situation soon
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