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City DNA #54: LS Lowry

City DNA #54: LS Lowry
The name LS Lowry is synonymous with the city of Manchester and beyond.

But what may not be widely known is the great artist’s own connection and affection for Manchester City.

Ironically for someone whose work is so distinctive and instantly recognisable, Lowry remained something of an enigma throughout his life.

Born in 1887, Laurence Stephen Lowry spent a lifetime working a traditional nine to five life with the Pall Mall Property Company in Manchester, largely as a rent collector, working until his retirement in 1952 and painted only in his spare time. 

Lowry’s father died in 1932, leaving debts while his mother, subject to depression, became bedridden and dependent on her son for care.

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It meant that Lowry painted only after his mother had fallen asleep, between 10:00 p.m. and 2:00 or 3:00 a.m.

Yet despite such restrictions, his iconic, remarkable images of pre- and post-war industrial Manchester and its surrounds were to bring Lowry worldwide fame and recognition.

He developed a distinctive style of painting and is best known for his urban landscapes peopled with human figures often referred to as "matchstick men".

Indeed, such is Lowry’s historical significance and enduring legacy, his name is immortalised in the world-famous Lowry Centre arts complex that is one of the main focal points of Salford Quays

A humble, shy, reserved man, LS Lowry always sought to eschew fame and popularity and famously turned down the offer of five separate state honours during his lifetime, including a knighthood in 1968.

Instead, he preferred to let his art speak for himself– and his evocative, distinctive works perfectly encapsulated the tough but proud lives of the people of Manchester and Salford around the mills and factories that dominated the skyline of the two cities.

And they captured the imagination of successive generations who marvelled and continue to be entranced by Lowry's instinctive, unique portrait of life in industrial Manchester

In charting the lives of the ordinary man and woman in the street, sport in general - and football in particular - featured large in Lowry’s collection of work.

Yet what may be less known is that amongst his sporting interests, with cricket another abiding passion, Lowry carried with him a lifelong affinity for City.

The great man is believed to have seen many City matches at Maine Road – especially in the post war years – where he could blend seamlessly into the security and anonymity of the thronging thousands jemmied into Maine Road.

Indeed, it could also be said that, as far as Lowry was concerned, art imitated life as scenes from football matches framed a compelling proportion of some of his most popular work.

One of Lowry’s most iconic paintings is titled Manchester City versus Sheffield United and dates from 1938.

                        City DNA #54: LS Lowry

Though rare for any Lowry works to depict any identifiable event, this picture depicted a crowd scene at a Second Division fixture between City and Sheffield United which took place at Maine Road on October 22, 1938 which City won 3-2 .

In 2008 the picture was sold to a private collector following auction.

Speaking at the time of the auction, Christies Art Historian Rachel Hidderley said: "Manchester City versus Sheffield United is from a small and important group of paintings in which Lowry records an actual event rather than a composite image of different locations or impressions.

“He concentrates on the home crowd rather than the team members, using the occasion of the match to concentrate on depicting the personalities of the individuals attending."

As well being a supporter of City, Lowry also had an affinity too for Bolton Wanderers with his former home in Pendlebury being within walking distance of the Burnden Park.

And another of his works, a 1953 work entitled ‘Going to the Match, showing a crowd approaching Burnden Park before a match, was bought by the Professional Footballers Association for £1.9m as an investment before being loaned to the Lowry Centre.

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Arguably, Lowry’s most iconic piece of work is titled The Football Match (1949) which depicts hundreds of the artist's signature stick figures.

It combined the artist’s trademark industrial landscape, peppered with rooftops; chimneys full of billowing smoke; spires; houses and streets scenes.

The image also pulled the viewer over the rooftops, through the deep crowds gathered on the side-lines and into the midst of the match itself, and then beyond.

Having been unseen for more than 20 years, it was put up for auction at Christies in 2011 and was sold to a private collector for more than £5.6m – a record sum for a Lowry painting.

Yet for all his fascination with the communal experience of attending a football match, Lowry himself was hugely afflicted by loneliness.

He never married or had children and lived with his mother until her death in 1939, after which Lowry revealed: “I have no family, only my studio.

“Were it not for my painting, I couldn't live. It helps me forget that I am alone.”

He may have felt isolated, but the nation and wider are world remained entranced by Lowry’s work.

Appointed as official war artist in 1943, 10 years later he was named Official Artist at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

By that time Lowry had moved from his Pendlebury home to Mottram in Longdendale where he was to continue living until his death in 1976.

If anything, his reputation and standing has only been enhanced in the 44 years since his passing.

The bleak industrial Mancunian skylines that underpinned much of Lowry’s work may have long since disappeared – but his stature, standing and association with his beloved City – will remain immortalised in his work.

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