15 Nov 2011
Sold: 1,161,250 GBP
PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION
LAURENCE STEPHEN LOWRY, R.A.
THE RAILWAY PLATFORM
signed and dated 1953
oil on canvas
46 by 76.5cm.; 18 by 30in.
Lefevre Gallery, London
Richard Green, London
Acquired by the present owner May 1984
London, Lefevre Gallery, Recent Paintings by L.S. Lowry, October 1953, cat. no.20;
London, Tate Gallery, Arts Council of Great Britain, L. S. Lowry R.A., Retrospective Exhibition, 1966-7, cat. no.72,
with tour to Sunderland Art Gallery, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, and City Art Gallery, Bristol;
London, Lefevre Gallery, A Memorial Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by L.S. Lowry R.A., 20th May - 3rd July 1976,
cat. no.15, illustrated p.15;
London, Royal Academy of Arts, L.S. Lowry Memorial Exhibition, 1976, cat. no.201;
London, Richard Green, Modern British Paintings, May 1984, cat. no.38, illustrated.
Mervyn Levy, The Paintings of L.S. Lowry: Oils and Watercolours, Jupiter Books, London, 1977, illustrated pl.59;
David Maclean, L.S.Lowry, The Medici Society, London 1978, p.14, illustrated;
T.G. Rosenthal, L.S. Lowry: The Art and the Artist, Unicorn Press, Norwich, 2010, illustrated p.179.
'You see, Sir, people think crowds are all the same. But they're not, you know. Everyone's different. Look! That man's got a twitch. He's got a limp...That woman, she's angry with her child. Those two have had a row; you can see it from their faces...The battle of life, sir. That's what it is. The battle of life' (The Artist, in conversation with Edwin Mullins and recounted in correspondence with T.G.Rosenthal, op. cit., 2009, p.183).
In Lowry's best paintings, he is able to combine the great and the small: the expansiveness of a view over a town, the sheer size of an industrial building or the milling swell of a crowd, yet he never loses sight of the individual, their quirks and idiosyncrasies. In The Railway Platform we see this ability brought to the fore.
Lowry was always drawn to places and events that attracted a crowd, and spontaneous street events feed the early paintings of the 1920s when Lowry was honing his style, titles such as An Accident, An Arrest, The Removal and Man Taken Ill giving a flavour of what caught his attention. It does therefore seem perhaps odd that railway stations do not feature more in his paintings. The continual comings and goings, a flowing populace irrespective of age, class or occupation, their potential as a venue for finding the displaced and the lost, the grandeur of buildings that might rival even a mill in scale, all these might be reasons to see Lowry treat this subject more often. However, when he did, the material he found springs out at the viewer as captivating and vibrant as any street scene.
The platform of this station is crowded, thronging with figures from all walks of life. Businessmen chat, read the newspaper or simply stand with their briefcases, waiting for their train to arrive. Women with shopping and children are mixed amongst them, suggesting perhaps that we may be looking at a crowd waiting to go home after a day in the town centre. Skilfully Lowry weaves a curving line along the platform and back, taking the viewer from each little vignette to the next, very much the way we might if we found ourselves on the opposite platform, casually waiting for our own train and casting an eye over the scene.
However, beyond the obvious setting of such a view, Lowry always manages to add some tiny uncertainties, and it is these that lift his work beyond the merely nostalgic and which have helped to secure his position as one of the most keenly collected British artists of the twentieth century. Initially our interest is centred on the individual characters depicted: Who are they, what have they been doing, where are they going? However, it is hard to escape from the feeling that whilst their platform is filled with activity and interaction, we, the viewer, are alone on ours.
The drop to the rails and the inferred danger of crossing apparently precludes our joining them in any way, and thus like many of Lowry's paintings, the viewer is intentionally kept at a distance. This may in some way mirror Lowry's own life, where his friendships and relationships were kept carefully distinct, and one is left with a very clear sense of the artist's personal compartmentalisation. The nature of a railway station usually dictates that when one platform is busy, the opposite will be quieter.
This crowd we see in front of us are off in one direction, we, apparently alone, are heading in the other. Whilst Lowry was often at pains to ensure that it was understood that he saw a crowd very much as a collection of individuals, each with their own story, he also was very much in tune with the simultaneous character of those same people as part of a larger body with subtly differing characteristics. Thus, whilst he picks out individual figures and throws a light onto them - the dapper gent leaning on a cane just to the right of the centre, the man who surreptitiously reads the newspaper over his neighbour's shoulder or the old clerk shuffling along the platform edge, perhaps to stand at the habitual spot he has occupied each and every working day as he waits for the train - we are aware of the whole crowd as a body with a purpose as distinct as a sweep of workers heading into the maw of the mill gate.
It is interesting to speculate how the dating of this painting might suggest a relation to Lowry's own circumstances. In 1952, at the age of sixty-five, Lowry had retired from the Pall Mall Property Company. He had kept this aspect of his life relatively secret from many of his friends, perhaps due to his fear of being seen as a hobby artist or Sunday painter. Nevertheless, not only did his job enable him in the early years to get a form of accepted access to the poorest neighbourhoods in the city that might have otherwise been less open, but it also provided Lowry with a regular involvement with a working environment that had little to do with his painting. The removal from this regular and comfortable contact must have been a noticeable shift for Lowry who, whilst he had many friends, led a relatively singular existence and to see him produce an image of commuters on a railway platform, showing others in a position that more than anything exemplifies the everyday, repetitive nature of a working life, suggests a rather wistful yearning to be involved. However, even here, Lowry's ability to see both sides of a situation comes to the fore.
For those gathered on the platform opposite, there is only the train or the Way Out, the shadowy exit that lurks in the background. Above them the painted wood canopy over the platform is transformed into something reminiscent of a huge toothed jaw, hanging above the oblivious commuters. Lowry was a cultured man, and his knowledge of art was extensive. It is therefore interesting to speculate that perhaps there is a nod here to the painters of the medieval and renaissance periods who regularly presented the damned gathered in or entering the mouth of hell. Whilst one could argue if a crowded compartment or stuffy atmosphere of a commuter train might really be compared with the endless torments of the infernal regions, there is no doubting that the feeling of endless repetition of the daily journeys to and from work might well make for a most humorous association.
Throughout the early years L.S.Lowry lived in Victoria Park, the suburbs of Manchester. Due to lack of money
the family moved to Station Road, Pendlebury.
There, the tree lined streets changed to factory chimneys. Lowry recalled "At first I detested it, and then, after years, became pretty interested in it, eventually obsessed by it". he saw the subjects for his paintings all around him. In Lowry's later life, L.S.L. recalled a particular event. "One day after missing a train from Pendlebury (a local town) I had ignored for seven years, and on leaving the station, saw the Acme Spinning Company's mill.
The huge black framework of rows of yellow lit windows standing up against the sad, damp charged afternoon sky. The mill was turning out. "Gazing at this scene, which I'd looked at many times without seeing, with rapture."
A writer in The Guardian newspaper, Bernard Taylor, recognised the unique quality of Lowry paintings, when he reviewed an early exhibition. "Mr Laurence S Lowry has a very interesting and individual outlook. Lowry subjects are Manchester and Lancashire street scenes, interpreted with technical means as yet imperfect, but with real imagination. We hear a great deal nowadays about recovering the simplicity of vision of primitives in art. These pictures are authentically primitive, the real thing not an artificially cultivated likeness to it. The problems of representation are solved not by reference to established conventions, but by sheer determination to express what the artist has felt. Whether the result is according to rule or not..."
Lowry worked as rent collector for the Pall Mall Property Company, prefering to keep the work secret. Lowry did not want people to think of him as a part-time artist. The job led to Lowry walking all over the city providing L.S.Lowry with many sights and experiences. Children playing in the streets, people returning from work, going off to work, gossip on the front steps, incidents, market places and Whit - processions. But all this changed, the blitz and rebuilding, slum clearances and new housing, changed the face of the city Lowry had observed so well. "I saw the industrial scene and was affected by it. Trying to draw it all the time and trying to express the industrial scene as well as possible. It wasn't easy, well, a camera could have done the scene straight off".
Lowry felt that drawings were as hard to do as paintings. Working the surface of the drawings by smudging, erasing and rubbing the pencil lines on the paper to build the atmosphere of the drawing. This artist would often make quick sketches on the spot on whatever paper he had in his pockets. L.S.Lowry carefully composed his pictures in a painting room at home and took great care over placing each figure. Late in life he would sit before a canvas or board on his easel and not know what was going to be in the painting until he started working. He called them "dreamscapes". Bernard Taylor made the suggestion that helped Lowry achieve the stark figures and the pallor of the industrial sky that he desired. Taylor suggested Lowry painted on a pure white background. He experimented with layers of white paint on boards, leaving them for a time until the surface became creamy.
LS Lowry used a very basic range of colours, which he mixed on his palette and painted on the white background. "I am a simple man, and 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... I like a medium you can work into over a period of time". Looking closely at the surface of a Lowry painting shows us the variety of ways he worked the paint with brushes (using both ends), with his fingers and with sticks or a nail. Some paintings are painted over the suface of other images. The 1938 painting Head of a Man (Man with Red Eyes) when x-rayed showed a female portrait and possibly a self-portrait underneath. Someone once asked,"What do you do with your old suits?" "Wear them", came the reply! Lowry certainly wore them for work, wiping the brushes on his lapels and sleeves.
In 1932 the father of Lowry died . For the next seven years, his 73 year old mother became 'bed fast' and completely ruled the life of Lowry. After she died in 1939, Lowry painted "The Bedroom Pendlebury" - in memory of those long hours he spent there. Demanding a great deal of his attention, Lowry would usually only manage to arrive at his studio after dark. "My mother did not understand my art, but she understood me and that was enough" Lowry said.
These were years of isolation and growing despair, reflected in the paintings of Lowry. They depict derelict buildings and wastelands as mirrors of himself. As an official war artist - himself emotionally blitzed - Lowry drew the ruined shells of bombed-out buildings. In 1939, the year Mrs Lowry died - the person he most wanted to please - success came with the first London exhibition. "When the mother of Lowry died, all interest was lost, continuing to paint was the greatest salvation".
Just when this northern artist began to have success, Lowry was moving away from the subjects that everybody wanted him to produce. "If it were not for lonleness, none of my works would have happened". Some of the most powerful paintings by Lowry are deserted landscapes and seascapes. Some of the most difficult pictures to enjoy are of solitary figures and downs and outs. "These people affect me in a way that the industrial scene never did. They are real people, sad people. Sadness attracts me, and there are some very sad things. similar feelings in myself".
Everything came too late for Lowry, but the later years saw the British artist become a popular celebrity. Lowry also became preoccupied about whether his art would last. "Will I live", he asked over and over again, like the art of the Pre-Raphaelites Lowry collected and loved, "I painted from childhood to childhood". Lowry became an old man - often protesting to interviewers that he had "given up, packed it in".
LSLowry died aged 88 in 1976 just months before a retrospective exhibition of his paintings opened at the Royal Academy. It broke all attendance records for a twentieth century artist. Critical opinion about Lowry remains divided to this day. Salford Museum & Art Gallery began collecting the artist's work in 1936 and gradually built up the collection which is now at the heart of the award-winning building bearing the artist's name. Celebrating his art and transforming the cityscape again. A small quantity of paintings by the artist l.s. lowry were published as signed limited edition prints. Some of the most well known being, 'Going to the match', Man lying on a wall, Huddersfield, Deal, ferry boats, three cats Alstow, Berwick-on-Tweed, peel park, The two brothers, View of a town, Street scene.