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NOT A CHIMNEY IN SIGHT


Modern British Art Specialist, James Rawlin, takes a closer look at LS Lowry's lesser known sea paintings in this week's blog.

When you think of the paintings of L.S.Lowry, what do you see? Terraced streets dwarfed by chimneys belching smoke? Urchin children playing in the gutter? Factory gates opening to streams of workers hurrying to beat the works siren? Maybe some lonely figures, washed up on park benches with nowhere particular to go?
 
Yet throughout his long career, he painted the sea. From yachts at the Edwardian beach resorts like Rhyl and Lytham St.Anne's, cranes and tankers at the docks of Glasgow, Sunderland or Liverpool and on to empty vistas of sea and sky, the sea is a constant theme in his paintings, yet one that has been continually overlooked at the side of his portrayal of the industrial landscape.
 
Take a look at July, The Seaside, 1943 (Arts Council Collection) and it might appear at first that Lowry has simply transferred the crowds and characters of his urban street scenes to the seaside. And yet it is not that Lowry has done that, he has simply reflected that for huge swathes of the working population of Britain in his lifetime, that is exactly what happened for just a few brief days each year. For every British industry there was the annual works fortnight, when the furnaces were let out, the looms fell silent, the drop-hammers sat still, and many of the working population would decant themselves onto trains and buses to head to the seaside. The British coastal resorts pulsed with crowds bursting with the annual opportunity to cram some fun and excitement into lives that were usually lived in the shadow of the mill.
 
Lowry offers us a glimpse of a time before cheap flights to the sun, and like his paintings of the city and the streets, we realise that it is not the setting that gives these images their strength, it is his understanding of the people who fill them. Look closely at July, The Seaside and you will see people busy genuinely enjoying their holiday by the sea. The dress may be considerably more formal than our present day beach wear, but we can see all the characteristics of a good day out that we can still recognise. Families gather and chat, the children play in the sand and tussle, the Punch & Judy man is drawing a crowd. The sun is shining, buckets and spades are ready for action, the ice-creams are plentiful and the summer days are long.
 
In July, The Seaside Lowry gives us a superb snapshot of that very British institution, the seaside holiday, and in doing so he offers an important thing to remember about his art. His paintings of the streets and  factories of the industrial north for which he is so well known aren't actually about industry. No, like the paintings of the seaside, they are about people.

James Rawlin will be hosting our Lowry by the Sea: Study Day on Friday 23 October 2015

Image copyright Sam Roberts
 
12 October, 2015
Written by James Rawlin