From June 26, Tate Britain is showing some 80 paintings by LS Lowry in a blockbuster exhibition which presents the artist within a wider art historical context. The aim is to show the serious side of this popular but often derided landscapist. Some surprising Lowry facts are revealed in the process. Here's what you'll learn...
But not for long. Born in Stretford, Manchester, in 1887 to Robert, an estate agent, and Elizabeth, an aspiring concert pianist, Laurence Stephen Lowry enjoyed an affluent childhood. But a move in 1909 to the industrial suburb of Pendlebury marked a distinct drop in the family's social standing. The young Lowry hated his new home at first, but eventually became obsessed by the crowded streets and cotton mills that surrounded him. If his paintings seem emotionally distant - almost like stage sets, with cut-out figures and buildings reminiscent of scenic flats - Lowry's uneasy social status could provide the answer.
In 1910 Lowry joined Pall Mall Property Company as a rent collector. Despite his subsequent fame, Lowry worked full time for the company until his retirement in 1952. This remained a secret until after his death in 1976.
Nothing annoyed Lowry more than being thought of as self-taught or naive. He attended evening classes in drawing and painting on and off between 1905 and 1925. His breakthrough came under the watchful eye of émigré French impressionist Adolphe Valette.
Okay, so most of Lowry's vistas are indisputably of the industrial north, but thanks to the influence of Valette, his work taps into a tradition of painting city life that is more French than it is English. The title of the Tate's exhibition 'Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life' refers to the late-nineteenth-century French poet Charles Baudelaire's call to artists to engage with the contemporary world. Tate Britain is showing Lowry's paintings alongside those of Valette, the impressionist Camille Pissarro and Montmartre artist-chronicler Maurice Utrillo. During the 1920s and 1930s, Lowry was certainly more successful – and more famous – in Paris than he was in London, showing regularly at the prestigious Salon d’Automne.
'Piccadilly Circus' (above) provides a clue. While the 1960 painting is one of only a handful of images of London painted by Lowry, the Tate hopes that it will help to dislodge his reputation as a regional artist. In fact, he was a frequent visitor to the capital. He showed at the Royal Academy of Arts from 1932 and at his commercial gallery, the Lefevre, until the 1950s. Later, he became a visiting artist at the Slade School of Fine Art, where he taught the likes of Paula Rego. He also popped down regularly to visit an aunt in Cricklewood.