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Laurence Stephen Lowry, R.A. (1887-1976)
Street scene
signed and dated 'L.S. LOWRY 1953' (lower right), with inscription 'STREET SCENE' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
11 x 18 in. (28 x 45.7 cm.)
with Lefevre Gallery, London.
Private collection, Swinton, 1995.
with Grove Galleries, Manchester, where purchased by the present owner.
Salford, The Lowry, L.S. Lowry's Street Life, October 2001 - January 2002, as 'People Milling Round', dated 1955.

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Lot Essay

Titles have always been something of a problem with Lowry. Even in this selection of his work there are two oil paintings entitled, simply, Street Scene, and there are many more carrying the same title. This is in part because Lowry was (a) prolific and (b) somewhat limited in his subject matter. Furthermore, he loved street life. As an infamous Sunday newspaper used to proclaim as its masthead "All human life is here", so Lowry saw the life of, and on, one of his streets, as a universal experience and one of such infinite interest and variety that, in the deepest sense of the title, Street Scene was obviously appropriate yet, simultaneously it did not matter. It was the richness and subtlety of the content that counted; the title was merely what it said on the tin.

In this particular street scene the central image is the end of a row of houses, i.e. the side view of the house, which makes it a pair with lot 46 also inevitably, called Street Scene. But in this picture the central image is laterally inverted, i.e. it is the precise mirror image of lot 46 with the flight of steep steps leading to the front door on the left of the house rather than on the right.

On the right there is a group of three adults and a child. The man is bowler-hatted, moustachioed and bespectacled. His face is actually quite blank; the child has her back to us and it is the two women who provide the interest. Both have those typical Lowry physiognomies, half Ensor-style masks, half nightmarish, ghostly faces. Lowry's sadonic humour endows the women - are they, perhaps, sisters? - with an unmistakable aura of gossip. This gossip is clearly ripe, perhaps over-ripe despite the child's presence and the viewer is invited to write his own lurid script.

For once the population of the picture is, in Lowry's terms, positively sparse. Just two women walk across the centre foreground, one with greenish top and brown skirt, the other with those colours reversed so that the couple is oddly symmetrical. A little girl, accompanied by a dog which should surely be known as 'a Lowry', walks towards the women. Another woman is climbing the stairs to the house's front door while two bigger children stand in the road looking at a workman leaning, bowler-hatted against the wall of the building that frames the picture on the left. He is smoking a short-stemmed, clay pipe.

The mostly white background includes a church and a smoking chimney and the heavy application of the pigment verges on impasto in a painting slightly short of action but full of atmosphere and half-disclosed meanings.


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