'Just as securely as Aix-en-Provence and the cliffs of Normandy belong to Cézanne and Monet, so the industrial landscape has become in effect a 'Lowryscape'' (M. Howard, Lowry A Visionary Artist, Salford, 2000, p. 50). The gateway, which appears so prominently in the present work, flanked by the familiar ball-topped columns, is a recurring feature of Lowry's industrial iconography. Making an entranceway, it serves as a symbolic feature, and is the main subject matter in Lowry's 1960 oil The Posts (Crane Kalman Gallery, London). Such entrances are frequently incorporated into Lowry's images introducing things seen and half-seen, openings and closings, which are emblamatic of the artist's exploration of psychological dilemmas.
Lowry often adapted and selected from observed reality. In The Gateway, painted in 1951, he has deployed the familiar device of positioning a fence between the foreground figures and the landscape beyond. In this way, he emphasises his own detachment from the familiar surroundings as well as enforcing the sense of alienation his figures feel towards the urban landscape. While the division of the composition into receding planes accentuates the street scene, the subtly defined smokestacks reaffirm the omnipresent nature of the industrial world that pervades Lowry's work.
In The Gateway, a solitary figure stands with his back to the viewer on the verge of the entrance, a figure of isolation in spite of the activity that surrounds him. As Lowry told the critic Mervyn Levy, 'All those people in my pictures, they are all alone, you know ... They have all got their private sorrows, their own absorptions. But they can't contact one another. We are all of us alone - cut off. All my people are lonely. Crowds are the most lonely thing of all. Everyone is a stranger to everyone else. You have only got to look at them to see that' (quoted in Lowry A Visionary Artist, Salford, 2000, p. 133).
The late owner, the actor Peter Barkworth, purchased the current work while touring with South Sea Bubble at the King's Theatre, Glasgow in 1956. He wrote 'I'd hummed and hahhed all week: could I afford £60? Eventually on the Saturday when someone from Annan & Sons said I could have it for £57, I bought it. It was one of several Lowrys. I've loved it ever since'.