L. S. Lowry

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Artists

Coming out of School, 1927, oil on wood, 34.7cm x 53.9cm, by L.S.LowryTate Gallery.
Coming out of School, 1927, oil on wood, 34.7cm x 53.9cm, by L.S.Lowry Tate Gallery.
Dwelling, Ordsall Lane, Salford, 1927, oil on wood, 43.2cm x 53.3cm, by L.S.LowryTate Gallery.
Dwelling, Ordsall Lane, Salford, 1927, oil on wood, 43.2cm x 53.3cm, by L.S.Lowry Tate Gallery.

Laurence Stephen Lowry ( November 1, 1887– February 23, 1976) was an English artist born in Barratt Street, Old Trafford, Manchester. Many of his drawings and paintings depict Salford and surrounding areas, including Pendlebury where he lived and worked for well over thirty years.

Lowry is famous for painting scenes of life in the industrial districts of northern England during the early 20th century. He had a distinctive style of painting and is best known for urban landscapes peopled with many human figures ('matchstick men'). He tended to paint these in drab colours. He also painted mysterious unpopulated landscapes, brooding portraits, and the secret 'marionette' works (the latter only found after his death).

Because of his use of stylised figures and the lack of weather effects in many of his landscapes he is sometimes characterised as a naïve 'Sunday painter' although this is not the position of the galleries that have organised retrospective of his works.

Early life

His family called him 'Laurie'. It was a difficult birth and his mother, who had been hoping for a girl, was uncomfortable even looking at him at first. Later she expressed her envy of her sister Mary, who had "three splendid daughters" instead of one "clumsy boy".

After Lowry's birth his mother's health was too poor for her to continue teaching. She is reported to have been gifted and respected. She was an irritable, nervous woman who had been brought up to expect high standards by her stern father. Like him she was controlling and intolerant of failure. She used illness as a means of securing the attention and obedience of her mild and affectionate husband and she dominated her son in the same way. Lowry had an unhappy childhood. At school he made few friends and showed no academic aptitude. His father was affectionate towards him but he could not gain the approval that he craved from his mother.

Death of his parents

His father died in 1932 leaving debts. His mother was subject to neurosis and depression, and became bedridden. Lowry's mother had always been a very important figure in his life and now he had to care for her. He painted from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. after his mother had fallen asleep. He frequently expressed regret that he received little recognition as an artist until the year that his mother died and that she had never been able to enjoy his success. From the mid 1930s until at least 1939 Lowry took annual holidays at Berwick-upon-Tweed. With the outbreak of war Lowry served as a volunteer fire watcher in Manchester and accepted an invitation to become a war artist. In 1953 he was appointed Official Artist at the coronation of Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.

With the death of his mother in October 1939, Lowry became depressed and neglected the upkeep of his house to such a degree that the landlord repossessed it in 1948. He was not short of money and bought "The Elms" in Mottram-in-Longdendale, Hyde, Manchester. Although he considered the house ugly and uncomfortable he stayed there until his death almost thirty years later.


Lowry retired from the Pall Mall Property Company in 1952. During his career he had risen to become chief cashier but he never stopped collecting rents. The firm had supported his development as an artist and he was allowed time off for exhibitions in addition to his normal holiday allowance. It seems, however, that he was not proud of his job; his secrecy about his employment by the Pall Mall Property Company is widely seen as a desire to present himself as a serious artist but the secrecy extended beyond the art world into his social circle.

Margery Thompson first met him when she was a schoolgirl and he became part of her family circle. He attended concerts with her family and friends, visited her home and entertained her at his Pendlebury home where he shared his knowledge of painting. They remained friends until his death but he never told her that he had any work except his art.

In the 1950s he regularly visited friends at Cleator Moor, Cumbria (where Geoffrey Bennett was Manager at National Westminster Bank) and Southampton (where Margery Thompson had moved upon her marriage). Lowry painted pictures of the bank in Cleator Moor, Southampton Floating Bridge and other scenes local to his friends' homes.

He befriended the 23-year-old Cumbrian artist Sheila Fell in November 1955 and supported her career by buying several pictures that he gave to museums. In 1957 an unrelated thirteen-year-old schoolgirl called Carol Ann Lowry wrote to Lowry at her mother's urging to ask his advice on becoming an artist. He visited her home in Heywood, Greater Manchester some months later, and befriended the family. His friendship with Carol Ann Lowry was to last the rest of his life.


He was awarded an honorary Master of Arts from the University of Manchester in 1945, and Doctor of Letters in 1961, and given freedom of the City of Salford in 1965. In 1975 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of Salford and the same degree by the University of Liverpool. The art world celebrated his 77th birthday (in 1964) with an exhibition of his work and that of 25 contemporary artists who had submitted tributes to Monk's Hall Museum, Eccles. The Hallé Orchestra also performed a concert in his honour and prime minister Harold Wilson used Lowry's painting The Pond as his official Christmas card. Lowry's painting Coming out of School was the stamp of highest denomination in a series issued by the Post Office depicting great British artists in 1967.

Lowry declined an OBE in 1955, a CBE in 1961, knighthood in 1968, and CH in 1972 and 1976. He holds the record for the most honours declined.

Death & Legacy

He died of pneumonia at The Woods Hospital in Glossop on 23 February 1976 aged 88. He was buried in Chorlton (Southern Cemetery), Manchester, next to his parents. He left his estate, valued at £298,459, together with a considerable number of artworks by himself and others to Carol Ann Lowry, who, in 2001, obtained trademark protection of the artist's signature.

Personal life

Lowry never married although he had several young female friends. He claimed never to have "had a girl [friend]". He said that he lived for his mother and that all he wanted was her smile or a word of praise from her. His father was indifferent to his artistic activity and although Lowry believed that his mother did not understand his painting, "she understood me and that was enough".

In later life, starting in the 1950s, Lowry would often spend holidays at the Seaburn Hotel in Seaburn, Tyne & Wear, painting scenes of the beach, as well as nearby ports and coal mines. It is believed that the sea air appealed to him, as well as the industrial scenes that were very different from the satanic mills of Greater Manchester. Lowry is fondly remembered in the city as a kindly old man, always wrapped up even at the height of summer, who kept himself to himself.

When he had no sketchbook with him, Lowry would often draw scenes in pencil or charcoal on the back of scrap paper such as envelopes, serviettes, and cloakroom tickets and present them to young people sitting with their families nearby. Such serendipitous pieces are now worth thousands of pounds; a serviette sketch can be seen at the Sunderland Mariott Hotel (formerly the Seaburn Hotel).

He may have had Asperger's Syndrome (the high-functioning form of autism) but this remains a contentious diagnosis that is not shared by those that knew him personally.

He was a secretive and mischievous man who enjoyed stories irrespective of their truth. His friends have observed that his anecdotes were more notable for their humour than their accuracy and in many cases he set out deliberately to deceive. His stories of the fictional Ann were inconsistent and he invented other people as frameworks upon which to hang his tales. The collection of clocks in his living room were all set at different times: to some people he said that this was because he did not want to know the real time; to others he claimed that it was to save him from being deafened by their simultaneous chimes.

The contradictions in his life are exacerbated by this confusion. He is widely seen as a shy man but he had many long-lasting friendships including the Salford artist Harold Riley and made new friends throughout his adult life. He was contrary and could be selfish but he was generous and concerned for the well-being of his friends and of strangers. It may be as Sheila Fell has said: "He was a great humanist. To be a humanist, one has first to love human beings, and to be a great humanist, one has to be slightly detached from them."

In later life he grew tired of being approached by strangers on account of his celebrity and he particularly disliked being visited at home in this way. Another of his unverifiable stories had him keeping a suitcase by the front door so that he could claim to be just leaving, a practice he claimed to have abandoned after a helpful young man insisted on taking him to the station and had to be sent off to buy a paper so that Lowry could buy a ticket for just one stop without revealing his deceit.

Lowry was a supporter of Manchester City Football Club.


During his life Lowry made about 1000 paintings and over 8000 drawings. The lists here are some of those that are considered to be particularly significant.


  • 1906 Still Life — a bowl of fruit for the first evening classes.
  • 1912 Portrait of the Artist's Mother
  • 1910 Clifton Junction Morning
  • 1917 Coming from the Mill — early exemplar of what has become known as the Lowry style.
  • 1919 Frank Jopling Fletcher — portrait demonstrating that Lowry's stylisation was a choice and not a consequence of any lack of skill.
  • 1922 A Manufacturing Town — archetypal Lowry industrial landscape.
  • 1922 Regent Street, Lytham — pastoral scene in sharp contrast to A manufacturing town.
  • 1925 Self Portrait — a large-nosed young man (he would have been 38 years old) in a large flat cap.
  • 1926 An Accident
  • 1927 Peel Park, Salford — an art gallery and museum that Lowry particularly liked and that held Salford's excellent collection of his work before the opening of the Lowry Centre.
  • 1927 Dwellings, Ordsall Lane, Salford — the first Lowry painting to be bought by the Tate Gallery (from his first London show in 1939).
  • 1928 A Street Scene — the first Lowry painting to be bought by Salford City Art Gallery.
  • 1928 Going to the Match — a crowd heading for a football match at Burnden Park, Bolton.
  • 1930 Coming from the Mill
  • 1934 The Empty House — an isolated house in grounds.
  • 1935 A Fight
  • 1935 The Fever Van
  • 1936 "Laying a Foundation Stone" The mayor of Swinton and Pedlebury, laying a foundation stone in Clifton.
  • 1937 The Lake — an environmental nightmare against an industrial background.
  • 1938 A Head of a Man — it has been suggested that this red-eyed man might be a portrait of Robert Lowry (who would be much older than the portrait suggests) or a form of self-portrait.
  • 1940 The Bedroom – Pendlebury — his late mother's room.
  • 1941 Barges on a Canal
  • 1942 The Sea A mournful painting off the Berwick coast
  • 1942 Blitzed Site — a man stands amidst the bombed ruins.
  • 1943 Britain at Play — huge busy urban scene which clearly depicts St Michael's Flags and Angel Meadow Park, Manchester.
  • Going To Work — painted as a war artist.
  • 1945 V.E. Day
  • 1946 The Park
  • 1947 A River Bank - bought by Bury Council for £150 in 1951, it was controversially sold by the Metropolitan Borough of Bury in 2006 to fund a £10 million budget defict for £1.25 million at a Christie's auction
  • 1947 Iron Works
  • 1950 The Pond — used as a Christmas card by Harold Wilson in 1964.
  • 1953 Football Ground — fans converging on Bolton Wanderers's old football ground Burnden Park; painted for a competition run by the Football Association it was later renamed Going to the Match and was bought by the Professional Footballers Association for a record £1.9 million in 1999.
  • 1955 A Young Man — a haunted youth stares at the viewer.
  • 1955 Industrial Landscape
  • 1956 The Floating Bridge — one of a pair owned by The City of Southampton, where the bridge operated until 1977.
  • 1957 Man Lying on a Wall — note the gentle joke that the man's briefcase bears the initials 'LSL'.
  • 1957 Portrait of Ann — a fiction.
  • 1959 On the sands, Oil on cavas.
  • 1960 Gentleman Looking at Something
  • 1961 River Wear at Sunderland — one of Lowry's favoured holiday destinations.
  • 1962 Two People
  • 1963 The Sea — typically understated seascape.
  • 1965 Industrial Scene
  • 1967 Tanker entering the Tyne


  • 1908 Head from the Antique — very accurately observed.
  • 1914 Seated Male Nude — realistic rendition with no trace of 'matchstick men'.
  • 1919 Robert Lowry — the artist's father.
  • 1920 The Artist's Mother
  • 1931 Pendlebury Scene
  • 1936 Dewars Lane -Lowry Trail In Berwick
  • 1956 Berwick Pier and Lighthouse
  • 1957 Woman with Beard — a woman Lowry saw on a train.
  • 1958 The Elms — Lowry's house in Mottram-in-Longdendale.
  • 1961 Colliery, Sunderland
  • 1969 The Front, Hartlepool
  • undated Palace street Berwick


Lowry's work is held in many public and private collections. The largest collection is held by the City of Salford and displayed at the Lowry Centre. Its L. S. Lowry Collection has about 350 of his paintings and drawings. X-ray analysis has revealed hidden figures under his drawings - the 'Ann' figures. Lowry's "Going to the Match" is owned by the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) and is also on display at the Lowry Centre in Salford.

The Tate Gallery in London owns 23 works. The City of Southampton owns The Floating Bridge, The Canal Bridge and An Industrial Town. His work is also featured at MOMA, in New York.


In 1978, two years after his death, Mancunian duo Brian and Michael hit number one in the UK pop chart with their only hit, the Lowry tribute Matchstalk Men And Matchstalk Cats And Dogs. Written by Ancoats born Michael Coleman and produced by Kevin Parrott, the record sold 750,000 copies.

To mark the centenary of his birth, Royston Futter, director of the L .S. Lowry Centenary Festival on behalf of the City of Salford and the BBC commissioned the Northern Ballet Theatre and Gillian Lynne to create a dance drama in his honour. A Simple Man was choreographed and directed by Lynne, with music by Carl Davis and starring Christopher Gable and Moira Shearer ( in her last dance role) and it won a BAFTA award as the best arts programme in 1988. It was subsequently transferred to the stage and first performed in Manchester in 1987 and in London at Sadlers Wells in 1988.

In 2000, a £100-million arts and entertainment centre called "The Lowry" was opened in Salford Quays, Greater Manchester. The Lowry is named after the artist and features his work.

In January 2005, a statue of Lowry was unveiled in Mottram, Tameside. 1 Lowry lived 100 yards away from where the statue stands in a linked detached property, "The Elms", in Stalybridge Road from 1948 up until his death in 1976. Unfortunately this has become a target for local vandals with the statue being vandalised several times since being unveiled. 2

In Hope High School, a house (a large group of pupils) is named after him.

The Manchester rock band Oasis paid tribute to Lowry by releasing a music video for the single "The Masterplan" in October 2006 which uses Lowry style animation.

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