An impressive panorama of the Mancunian urban scene, Industrial Landscape is among the greatest examples of L.S. Lowry’s visions of the North. Painted in 1951, the work teems with Lowry’s iconic motifs of figures and factories, chimneys and chapels, houses and wasteland. Depicted from an elevated viewpoint, as is synonymous with his oeuvre, Lowry illustrates the cauldron of life. As his familiar figures hurry about their daily lives, their homes are dwarfed by a panoply of mills and factories that loom like ghosts in the milky atmosphere of the city, belching out streams of dark smoke bent in the polluted wind. Part real, part imagined; it is a composite scene into which the artist has distilled many of his most beloved views and memories into one exquisite painting. As Lowry himself said, ‘Most of my land and townscape is composite … made up … bits and pieces of my home locality. I don’t even know I’m putting them in. They just crop up on their own, like things do in dreams’ (L.S. Lowry quoted in J. Spalding, Lowry, London, 1987, p. 55). One instantly recognisable element is the Stockport Viaduct, which, by his own admission, enthralled him. ‘It often appears in my pictures. As I make them up, I suddenly know I must bring in the Stockport Viaduct … I love it … it is part of my life, my dream’ (L.S. Lowry quoted in M. Levy, The Paintings of L.S. Lowry: Oils and Watercolours, London, 1979, p. 23).
Compositionally complex yet masterfully balanced, Industrial Landscape demonstrates both Lowry’s ambition and ability to artfully construct his dreamscapes. Anchored by the undulating, sooty darkness of the wasteland below, the structural forms of houses, terraces, fences and factories rhyme and echo throughout the scene creating a sense of coherence within the disorder. The eye is led through the composition along the two arterial paths, passing under the viaduct and onwards to the heart of the metropolis beyond. Perhaps Lowry’s painterly metaphor for man’s destiny? Areas of impasto give physicality to his structures while incised lines, created from the tip of his paintbrush, just as quickly take it away. His use of colour to materialise in pigment the essence of his beloved city is exceptional, as he depicts the shining red doors of the terraced houses, the glowing yellow of a light left on and the flash of red as a bus passes over the viaduct. Each such element acting as a cipher, affording the viewer a closer edification into what Lowry described as the ‘Battle of Life’. ‘It is really a ‘dreamscape’, combining in one superb composition all of those elements of the industrial scene which have haunted the artist’s imagination since he first beheld its grimy, smoky glory’ (loc. cit.).
Lowry first realised his artistic vision at the age of twenty-two after moving with his family to the suburb of Pendlebury, between Manchester and Bolton. This change of surroundings, from leafy middle-class suburbia, had a profound impact upon the young Lowry as the industrial sprawl took hold of his imagination. ‘When I was young, I did not see the beauty of the Manchester streets … then one day I saw it … suddenly I saw the beauty of the streets and crowds’ (L.S. Lowry quoted in ibid., p. 17). Crowds of anonymous figures, alienated within a sea of strangers, populate many of Lowry’s most celebrated paintings and have come to be read as manifestations of the artist himself, a form of melancholic self-portraiture. As Lowry himself confessed, ‘they are symbols of my mood, they are myself’ (A. Kalman and A. Lambirth, L.S. Lowry, Conversation Pieces, London, 2003, p. 28).
Painted during a resurgence of inspiration for Lowry after the Second World War, Industrial Landscape is one of the finest examples of his miniaturisations of the urban panorama. Represented by Lefevre Gallery, Lowry was an established artist by this point in his career; receiving fervent interest from the art world in London and enjoying the success of his first retrospective exhibition in 1951 at the Salford Art Gallery, Manchester. Included in the Crane Kalman Gallery L.S. Lowry Centenary Exhibition held in 1987, Industrial Landscape can be seen as a precursor to his celebrated series of five large-scale dreamscapes painted in the mid-1950s, such as the monumental example housed at Tate, London, Industrial Landscape (1955), and Industrial Landscape, Ashton under Lyne (1952), in the Collection of Bradford Museum and Galleries, Bradford. Lowry never lost sight of seeing the splendour in his surroundings. Across his entire breadth of work he held true to his ambition of painting the splendour of the North, seemingly never experiencing a conflict of vision or style, nor a problem of matching this vision with the manner of its technical expression.
Industrial Landscape expertly demonstrates Lowry’s ability to turn the most ordinary scenes into the most extraordinary tales. As M. Vaizey states, ‘The paintings of L. S. Lowry are probably, almost certainly, the most familiar, the most loved and the most appreciated of all twentieth-century British art’ (M. Vaizey, L.S. Lowry, London, 1995, p. 84). Taught by Adolphe Valette, a collector of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and an admirer of Lucian Freud, Lowry acknowledged no influences, nor did he encourage others to acquire his style. Parallels have been drawn between Lowry and the English Impressionists, in particular the Camden Town School painter Malcolm Drummond. Breughel has also been cited by Mervin Levy as an interesting comparison, ‘The Breughel peasant and the Lowry worker are not far apart’ (M. Levy, op. cit., p. 18). However, Lowry’s work will continue to be seen as utterly unique; ‘a vision both big enough in conception, and uniquely enough expressed in style to ensure for the artist a permanent place in the patterns of European art’ (M. Levy, Painters of Today, L.S. Lowry, London, 1961, p. 23). His is a story of self-deprecating genius, of hidden talent found. ‘Lowry established a vision of the North that is unique and unforgettable … he is among the last of those splendid individualists who have so enriched our heritage’ (ibid., pp. 13-22).