The Sunday Painter

As the fight against an ever-present and threatening virus continues on, it feels like forever since we could huddle in groups outdoors. As we turn to art for a sense of calm and reassurance, perhaps we can also find some hope for the future in LS Lowry’s cityscapes…

Words by Alexander Stubbs. First published March 20th, 2021, at The Mackayan.

Having spent the last year staring in the face of endless national lockdowns and a pandemic that has seen our streets emptied of its bodies and its noise, viewing Lowry’s paintings is a strange experience. They once felt like windows into a time far removed from our own. Now we gaze upon them with a sense of despondency, patiently but cautiously waiting for our past sense of normalcy to return.

Separated from Lowry’s paintings by almost 100 years, the aches and pains of a global pandemic have revived our interest in depictions of people congregating en masse. In 1943, Lowry completed “Britain at Play,” one of his more immersive cityscapes. Here we see a nameless town exuding energy. Life abounds in Lowry’s work here. People have flocked to the parks and onto the streets to socialise and play, whilst in the distance smoke belts out from factory chimneys, suggesting that work must still continue. If nothing else, we see the town at its most animated. 

Lowry painted “Britain at Play” amidst one of the most devastating moments in history. The Second World War had been raging on for four years at this point, yet there is no indication in the painting that anything other than customary daily life was occurring. Lowry was looking backwards in time here, painting on his sense of nostalgia thickly. As John Berger writes, Lowry’s focus “on the minutiae of the everyday” was the catalyst that drove him to popular fame. Through his depictions of uneven streets and foggy skies, Lowry captured the reality of industrial life in the North of England in a way that was relatable to those living there. 

To read the full article, head over to The Mackayan.

Cover image: “L S Lowry contemplating Stockport.” by Smabs Sputzer (1956-2017) is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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