This blue plaque is quite near home in Dukinfield. I usually get stuck at the traffic lights just outside his house in Mottram. I sit there wondering what his working regime was, why he painted one street but not another, why he only used five colours, why his characters never had shadows, why he led such a limited life, why he was so repressed and inhibited.
Life wasn’t that easy for Lawrence. His mother, a controlling and manipulative woman, wanted a girl and wasn’t comfortable looking at him at first. Her sister had three daughters – she had a “clumsy boy”. His father was a withdrawn, introverted man whom Lowry said was emotionally cold.
His childhood was spent in Rusholme, Manchester and then Pendbury. Here he missed a train and “…as I left the station I saw the Acme Spinning Company's mill ... The huge black framework of rows of yellow-lit windows standing up against the sad, damp charged afternoon sky. The mill was turning out... I watched this scene — which I'd looked at many times without seeing — with rapture.”
He left school and became a rent collector. He learnt to draw in the evenings and went to the Manchester School Of Art then Salford University.
His father died leaving debts and he lived with his month. She was neurotic, often depressed and basically lived in bed. When she fell asleep he painted between 10pm and 2am. When his mother died in October 1939 Lowry became depressed and neglected money obligations and the landlord repossessed the house in 1948. Lowry had money though and bought “The Elms” shown below. This house in Mottram was, in his words, ugly and uncomfortable, but he stayed here for 30 years until he died. He had some girlfriends but they were more friends that were female than girlfriends. He never married.
When on holiday he sketched on envelopes, serviettes and cloakroom tickets and presented them to young people sitting with their families. These pieces are now worth thousands of pounds; a serviette sketch can be seen at the Sunderland Marriott Hotel (formerly The Seaburn Hotel).
He was a secretive deceptive man and people never really knew if his stories were true. In his home he had many clocks but they were all set the different times as he didn’t really want to know the real time. He told people they were set at different times so as not to be deafened when they all struck at once.
His steady output brought celebrity and in the 1950s he was peeved by strangers approaching him in the street (some just arrived at his house.) He kept a suitcase by the front door so that he could tell unwanted visitors he was just leaving. This backfired one day when a helpful man insisted on taking him to the railways station. To keep up the charade Lowry had to buy a ticket and got off the train at the next stop. Locally he was polite to residents of Mottram who respected his need for privacy. He could often be seen on buses. He was an avid football supporter and often went to watch Manchester City.
All this time he was still working and retired from rent collecting on his 65th birthday. He was never proud of this job and many people didn’t know his occupation.
He only used five colours : Ivory Black, Vermilion, Prussian Blue, Yellow Ochre and Flake White. He used the dining room as his studio.
In 1957 a 13-year-old schoolgirl called Carol Ann Lowry wrote to him to ask for advice on painting and because they had the same name. He visited her home in Heywood and befriended the family. His friendship with Carol Ann Lowry lasted for the rest of his life. He produced a series of erotic works which were not seen until after his death. The paintings depict a mysterious “Ann” suffering from sexually-charged tortures. They reflect a sexual anxiety and he admitted he ‘had never had a woman” (whatever this meant.) This article about Carol Ann is of interest:-
In 1968 he was award a knighthood but turned it down.
He died aged 88 of pneumonia in Woods Hospital in Glossop (see photo below) and is buried in Southern Cemetery in Manchester next to his parents. He left £298,459 and many valuable paintings to the above-mentioned Carol Ann Lowry. He had been collecting Rossetti paintings which were worth a small fortune.
Now his paintings sell for millions. 'A River Bank' was bought by Bury Council for £150 in 1951 and sold in 2006 for £1.25 million
The Lowry in Salford Quays cost £106 million to build and opened in 2000. It houses 55 of his paintings and 278 drawings (the world's largest collection of his work.) In January 2005, a statue of him was unveiled in Mottram just 100 yards away from his home. It had been vandalised many times.
My friend Dave Worthington used to deliver a newspaper to Lowry’s house (on the same round: Tommy Docherty and Pat Phoenix.)
Though he was brighter than he wanted people to know Lowry was quite a humble man and said, “You don’t need brains to be a painter, just feelings.” He was probably quite lonely as he said he wouldn’t have painted if he’d had a normal family life.