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L.S. Lowry RA 1887-1976

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L.S. Lowry - An Old Gentleman

An Old Gentleman, 1947

Oil on Canvasboard
14 x 10 ins (35.56 x 25.40 cms)
Signed and dated

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Provenance

With The Lefevre Gallery, London
With Crane Kalman Gallery, London, 9 October 1964, where purchased by the father of the present owner
Private Collection, U.K.

General Notes

As part of a BBC television documentary made in 1957, Lowry recounted how one afternoon in 1916 he missed a train from Pendlebury to Manchester and that 'as I got to the top of the steps I saw the Acme Mill, a great square red block with the little cottages running in rows right up to it and suddenly, I knew what I had to paint' (L.S. Lowry quoted in Shelley Rohde, L.S. Lowry, A Life, Haus Publishing Limited, London, 2007, p.45). It was the end of the working day and hundreds of little pinched black figures scurried away with heads bent down. This image of the urban landscape and the people within it of various ages and conditions was to become Lowry's obsession and most recognisable subject throughout his life.

By the time An Old Gentleman was painted in 1947, Lowry had become more interested in individual characters and it is as if the subject in the present work has been plucked from the busy streets for us to observe at close quarters. Lowry was of course trained in the traditional and academic manner of figure drawing but after 1915 chose to abandon this for a more evocative representation of the people he met and whom fascinated him. In his 1951 essay, The Discovery of L.S. Lowry, Maurice Collis quoted his conversation with the artist which stated that 'natural figures would have broken the spell of it, so I made them half unreal. They were part of a private beauty that haunted me' (Maurice Collis, The Discovery of L.S. Lowry, Lund Humphries for Alex Reid & Lefevre Ltd, London, 1951, p.20).

There is an unquestionable loneliness to Lowry's single figure compositions and that is certainly the case here with the man clothed head to toe in black, the only flash of colour coming from the red under his jacket. The iron fence that stands solidly behind him reminds us that he occupies a world from which it is difficult to escape and the feint trace of a billowing chimney in the distant background hints at the industrial landscape beyond. Maurice Collis has noted that these figures 'are his own reflection as if seen in a distorting mirror, the projections of his mood, his very shadows, ghosts of himself...Nevertheless, their relevance to the pictorial setting is sufficiently natural for them to have been taken solely for what they purport to be, citizens walking the streets of Manchester. Thus his paintings are both scenes of contemporary life and psychological statements. This duality adds greatly to their force and permanence' (Op.cit., pp.21-2).

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