L S Lowry

Laurence Stephen Lowry was born on the 1st November 1887 in Stretford and area of Trafford, then in Lancashire now in Greater Manchester. It’s was an area known as Porkhampton due to it’s large number of pig farms, it is also more famously known as home to both Manchester United football team and the home of the Lancashire County Cricket team.

Lowry didn’t have a happy childhood, he described his shy rather weak father as a ‘cold fish’ and his neurotic attention seeking mother made no secret that she had wanted a beautiful girl and was very disappointed to have just a ‘clumsy boy‘ instead.

On leaving school Lowry began working for the Pall Mall company working as among other things; a rent collector. He also took private art lessons in antique and freehand drawing, this meant that in 1905 at the age of eighteen he secured a place at the Manchester School of Art studying under the French impressionist Pierre Adolphe Valette. In 1915 he moved up to the Salford Royal Technical College where he continued training for the next ten years, all the time maintaining his day job with Pall Mall.

His father died in 1932 leaving debts, and his mother became bedridden relying on Lowry for her care. He continued to paint after his mother had gone to sleep until the early hours. Many of the painting produced during this period are what he referred to as the Horrible heads series.

From the mid 1930’s until the outbreak of war he used to take his annual holiday at Berwick-Upon-Tweed. During the war he served as a volunteer fire
watcher and an official war artist. His mother died in 1939 and he became depressed so much so that he neglected the upkeep of his house to such an extent that the landlord reposed it in 1948. He was not however short of money, and he bought his house in Motram, which although he claimed not to like as it was ugly and uncomfortable he remained there until his death thirty years later.

In 1953 he was the official artist for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. In later years he took his holidays in Sunderland, County Durham painting scenes on the beach or the nearby port and coal mines, if he had no sketchbook he would draw on whatever he had to hand, envelopes serviettes etc, and quite often he would give them to the young people on the beach.

Although he never married, and according to him at the age of 88 he had “never had a woman” he did have good friends both male and female many of whom were artists themselves. His friends claimed that he was a secretive and mischievous man who enjoyed a good story more for it’s humour than it’s accuracy.

As his celebrity grew during the 1950’s he disliked the attention from strangers either stopping him in the street or going to his home, so much so that he used to keep a suitcase by the front door so that he could claim he was just on his way out; this ploy came to an end when one particularly helpful young man insisted in helping him to the railway station, and Lowry had to send him off for a newspaper while he bought a ticket for just one stop so that he didn’t offend the young man.

He retired from the Pall Mall company in 1952 0n his 65th Birthday, he had risen to become chief cashier although he never stopped collecting rents.

Lowry joked about retiring from the art world claiming lack of interest in the changing landscape. Instead he concentrated on groups of figures and odd imaginary people, and unknown to anyone at the time he also produced a series of erotic works, often referred to as The Mannequins.

During his lifetime although he received many honours including an honorary Master of Arts Degree from Salford University, he also declined many. He declined the O.B.E twice, the C.B.E once, he declined a knighthood and he declined an appointment to the Order of the Companion of Honour, quite possibly a record.

He died of pneumonia on the 23rd February 1976 and is buried with his parents in the Southern Cemetery in Manchester. He left behind him a huge
Cultural legacy and in recognition of this the art gallery that bears his name on the refurbished Salford Quay; the Lowry has a permanent exhibition of his paintings and drawings.

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