Laurence Stephen Lowry, R.A. (1887-1976) Town Steps, Maryport signed and dated 'L.S. LOWRY 1954' (lower right) oil on canvas 24 x 20 in. (61 x 50.8 cm.) Provenance Acquired by the present owner before 1968. The Lord Forte Collection of Works by L.S. Lowry The Forte family name is synonymous with the world famous hotel brand which was established by the entrepreneurial magnate Charles Forte (1908-2007), who created a worldwide empire of restaurants and hotels from virtually nothing. He was born in Monforte, in the region of Lazio in Italy, and at the age of four moved to Scotland with his family, where they set up local cafes and ice-cream shops. As an adult Charles Forte worked with his family, moving to Brighton at the age of 22 to manage the 'Venetian Lounge' for his cousin. In 1935, at the age of 26, he opened his first milk bar on Regent Street, London, going on to build an impressive portfolio and a company which was FTSE 100 listed. This is a legacy of excellence which now lives on in the form of the Rocco Forte Hotels, a collection of five-star hotels. Comprised entirely of important oil paintings which date from the 1930s to 1960s, this remarkable collection of works by L.S. Lowry was passionately assembled with Lord Forte's discerning eye, largely during the artist's lifetime, in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. It is the most significant collection of works by L.S. Lowry ever to come to auction. It's a mistake to underestimate L.S. Lowry, and to dismiss him as a naive or repetitious painter of industrial scenes full of scurrying figures. He was one of the great originals, who commanded a vision as singular as William Blake's. Lowry is often referred to as self-taught, yet he studied extensively at Manchester Municipal College of Art under the French Impressionist Adolphe Valette, and later attended life classes at Salford School of Art. He was an industrious student who developed the technical abilities to match his unique vision. His drawing was strong but subtle, and he invented an impressive shorthand that could make stylisation interesting. His handling of paint - few can use white with such authority and range - was deeply sophisticated, and his imagery is far more varied than the Lowry stereotype allows. Laurence Stephen Lowry was born in 1887, in Old Trafford, Manchester, an only child who wanted from an early age to be an artist. He took private painting classes but his parents convinced him of the importance of earning his living, so he began work as a clerk in a firm of Chartered Accountants. During this time he attended evening classes at art school, as well as continuing his private studies. In 1910 he took up the post he would hold for the rest of his adult working life - Rent Collector and Clerk for the Pall Mall Property Company. The period 1915-1925 was crucial to his subsequent development as a painter, as not only did he gain substantially in confidence and ability, but he recognised the potential of the industrial scene, a subject previously despised or dismissed as irredeemably ugly. Lowry identified its hidden beauty. This was revolutionary. He discovered the human sweep of the contemporary mill-scape, its ability to signify the human condition, and he rendered it dramatic not just through the colour and texture and cunning of his paint, but through the movement inherent in the figures he populated it with. He had the gift of painting what was grim with a tenderness that transformed and transfigured it, and in the midst of social and industrial depression he offered a lifeline of optimism, if not actual redemption. There is not an ounce of sentimentality or satire in his paintings, which are remarkable for their integrity and honesty. Although they afford an accurate record of living and working conditions in early 20th century industrial England, they are matter-of-fact rather than social realist. However, Lowry did not simply sit in front of his subject and paint it, he re-created it back in his studio from memory and imagination (and from scribbled notes made on the spot). By this method he was able to edit and elide, altering what he had observed when necessary, to make a more ordered and effective painting which nevertheless remained true to the spirit of the subject. He first exhibited in London in the 1930s, when the Tate Gallery purchased its first Lowry. The critics began to take notice of this 'new' arrival. Noël Barber compared Lowry to Utrillo, while for Eric Newton he brought to mind the Sienese and Florentine primitives. Newton wrote of Lowry: 'He has the same delicacy and richness of surface, the same cleanness of colour (even his smoky greys are somehow clean), the same naïve clinging to outline, the same trick (less evident in his later work) of arranging his backgrounds like stage scenery, parallel to the picture plane, and the same tendency to draw his figures only in front view, back view or profile. Yet despite these superficial naivetes his composition is often subtle and sometimes masterly.' Colour and design, together with paint-handling, were to be among Lowry's great strengths, which he worked hard to perfect. The artist was not so much a recluse as a solitary, and after his mother's death in 1939, he devoted himself to work. Andras Kalman, for many years Lowry's dealer, observed: 'Sometimes for years he worried, rendered, repainted a surface with the craftsmanship of an 18th century mason, until a contemplative, cool crust had finally been achieved.' That attention to technique also extended to his treatment of subject, which he took very seriously. He wanted to paint what he called 'the battle of life', and this did not just mean putting the industrial scene on the artistic map. His ambition was to record the human animal in all its manifestations, and in old age he was increasingly drawn to the grotesque. Lowry's position in the art world is suitably unusual. He is one of the most famous and genuinely popular artists with the general public, and yet he isnow frowned upon by the art establishment. It is almost as if he is tainted by success - as if an artist who can command such wide appeal must be automatically suspect. And yet a generation ago, when art critics were more accustomed to think for themselves and even museum directors were expected to have opinions which didn't necessarily conform to the orthodox view, Lowry was rated very highly by officials as well as by the mass media. In 1966 the Arts Council mounted a substantial Lowry retrospective which toured from Sunderland to Manchester and Bristol before ending up at the Tate Gallery, and the catalogue contained not only a brilliant introductory essay by Edwin Mullins, but also a tribute from that great Establishment figure Sir Kenneth Clark. A decade later, the Royal Academy arranged a major exhibition which turned into a memorial after the artist's death in February 1976. The catalogue for that show included glowing testimonials by Sir John Betjeman and various fellow artists such as Sheila Fell and Carol Weight. From the start, Lowry has been recognised by artists, who tend to base their judgment on looking rather than theorising. Nowadays the Tate refuses to put its Lowrys on view (it owns seven paintings by him) despite the inordinate interest in his work. A leading art book publisher declined to publish an excellent Lowry monograph on the curious grounds that the artist was not known in America. Yet the catalogue of the last museum exhibition of Lowry, at Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal, Cumbria in 2010, sold out long before the show ended. The snobbery which seems to prevent Lowry from being granted proper establishment status only reflects badly on the authorities concerned, it does not affect his popularity in the slightest. At auction, Lowry's prices have risen steadily, and it is in the auction houses that some of the best Lowry paintings and drawings may now be seen. If our larger museums are failing in their duty to Lowry and to the public, at least there are alternative public venues in which to view choice examples of his art. The group of works under discussion is one such case in point. These 14 paintings come from the same private collection and were in almost every case acquired during the artist's lifetime, which makes them historically significant. They cover a wide range of subject, though not every aspect of Lowry's surprisingly diverse output. There are, for instance, none of the really empty paintings of land or sea, nor are there any examples of his fascination for the grotesque, no bearded ladies or freaks, though cripples do feature unobtrusively in the crowd scenes. There have been so many misunderstandings of Lowry's work, so many lasting prejudices and snobberies, that it's time to set the record straight. The horrible and inexact catchphrase 'matchstick men', which hangs round Lowry's neck like a noose, is - like so many wrong assumptions - based on expectation rather than observation. Anyone who has actually looked with any attention at a Lowry crowd will know that each figure is carefully differentiated, and that far from having the wooden uniformity of matchsticks, his people have a plastic variety which makes his compositions full of surprises. In fact, the spring in their collective step makes a resemblance to pipe-cleaners rather than matches seem much more appropriate, with their implicit linear flexibility. Lowry evolved various strategies of stylisation to focus his vision, refining his observation to outline and silhouette, but miraculously without sacrificing individuality. As he said: 'I wanted to paint myself into what absorbed me. Natural figures would have broken the spell of it, so I made my figures half unreal.... They are part of a private beauty that haunted me. I loved them and the houses in the same way: as part of a vision. ' That private beauty allowed for distinguishing features of stance, gesture and individuating colour, but insisted on the figures being subordinate to the overall design. Lowry commented: 'Some critics have said that I turned my figures into puppets, as if my aim were to hint at the hard economic necessity that drove them. To say the truth, I was not thinking very much about people. I did not care for them the way a reformer does.' No, Lowry had too much compassion and understanding for that; and far too much relish for the absurdity of human existence. As I have written elsewhere: 'Lowry's deep truthfulness to his subject is one of the attributes which lifts his work from the provincial to the universal. His paintings and drawings are not simply descriptive of industrial working class life in the early decades of the 1900s, they are profound statements about the human condition, as relevant today as when they were first made.' His paintings offer enlightenment as well as entertainment, and wisdom as well as pleasure, operating as they do on many different levels to appeal to a wide cross-section of humanity. Lowry's unique achievement is proclaimed and reiterated through this remarkable collection. Andrew Lambirth, private correspondence, 2011.
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.