On this day in history : 1st November 1887 – The birth of English artist L.S. Lowry – famous for his matchstick figures, mill scenes and industrial landscapes….

Millworkers by LS Lowry – Photo by Bruce Lamberton – own work – CC BY-SA 4.0

Laurence Stephen Lowry was born in Barrett Street, Stretford…. His father, Robert, was a clerk for a property company and his mother, Elizabeth, a teacher and talented pianist…. She was to suffer ill-health after the birth and had to give up work and all aspirations of becoming a concert pianist…. This made her resentful and added to the fact that she made it no secret that she had longed for another daughter and not the son she got – Lowry himself admitted that his childhood was not an overly happy one…. His father was introverted and meek, whereas his mother was domineering….

In 1898 the family moved to Victoria Park, a pleasant leafy suburb of South Manchester…. However, in 1909 financial difficulties forced a move to Pendlebury, the industrial area between Manchester and Bolton….

On leaving school Lowry took a couple of jobs working for chartered accountants but after being made redundant for a second time in 1910 he began to work as a rent collector for the Pall Mall Property Company…. He remained working for this firm until his retirement in 1952….

Lowry had always enjoyed drawing as a child and once he had started earning his own money he paid for private art lessons…. Then in 1905 he began evening classes at the Manchester Municipal College of Art, where he studied under French impressionist Pierre Adolfe Valette – a man he greatly admired….

Still Life (1906) – Fair use

To further his art training he joined Salford’s Royal Technical Institute in 1915 and remained studying here until 1925 – by which time he had now developed his own unique style of urban landscapes, matchstick men and deep, brooding portraits….

Self Portrait (1925) – Fair use
Coming Home from the Mill (1928) – Fair use

Lowry’s father died inn 1932, leaving the family in debt and financial difficulty…. Before long his mother had become bedridden and it was Lowry who had to care for her…. The only time he got to himself was late at night – he would often paint into the early hours…. His mother never appreciated his talent; he had his first solo exhibition at the Lefevre Gallery, London, in 1939 – which was hugely successful and many of his paintings sold…. His mother did not live long enough to see his success – she died in October 1939….

View of a Town (1936) – Fair use
An Old Street (1937) – Fair use

During World War 2 Lowry became an official war artist…. By now he was battling with depression; he stopped looking after his home – and in the end the neglect had become so bad that in 1948 he was evicted from the house by the landlord…. Fortunately Lowry was now financially secure and so he bought himself a house, ‘The Elms’, in a more rural area of Cheshire…. Although he claimed he didn’t much like the house or area he set up his studio here and remained until his death….

Going to Work (1943) – Fair use

Lowry liked to holiday each year in the same seaside hotel in Sunderland…. Here he painted beach scenes, the nearby ports and coal mines…. If he saw something that interested his artist’s eye and had no sketch pad to hand he would utilise whatever was available, maybe the back of an envelope or perhaps a napkin…. He would give these sketches away to whoever was present and taking an interest in what he was doing…. These drawings are now highly desirable and fetch a small fortune….

July, the Seaside (1943) – Fair use

Although regarded as a private person and a loner Lowry was a likeable character and made many long lasting friends in his lifetime…. He never married but did have lady friends…. He particularly befriended colleagues in the art world – and would go out of his way to encourage young artists, often by buying their work…. He would frequently act as a mentor…. Lowry was also football fan and a keen Manchester City supporter….

He retired from his job as a rent collector on his 65th birthday…. By now he was beginning to tire of painting industrial scenes and although he didn’t totally abandon his trademark theme he began to paint small groups of figures…. Influenced by his holidays in Sunderland he also started painting more and more empty landscapes….

Seascape (1950) – Fair use

Into his old age Lowry continued to paint and draw – it is perhaps evident he did so purely to please himself – and did not intend it for public display…. His work from this time has an intimate, private, even surreal quality to it…. ‘Mannequin’ drawings….young women in absurdly restrictive clothing; tight bodices they could hardly breathe in – or even dressed in men’s evening attire…. A large quantity of these pictures were found after his death….

Man Lying on a Wall (1957) – Fair use

Lowry was admitted to Woods Hospital, Glossop, following a stroke…. He died of pneumonia on the 23rd of February 1976…. He was buried at Southern Cemetery, Manchester, alongside his parents….

Family Group (1958) – Fair use

A major exhibition of his work was later held at the Royal Academy and attracted a record number of visitors for a British artist…. His works are often now sold for millions….

L S Lowry contemplating Stockport (a scan taken from a photograph by Crispin Eurich in 1962) – Image credit : Smabs Sputzer (1956 – 2017) via Flickr

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