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Laurence Stephen Lowry, R.A. (1887-1976)
Study for The Steps, Maryport
signed and dated 'L.S. LOWRY 1956' (lower right)
oil on panel
9½ x 7½ in. (22.8 x 19 cm.)
with Lefevre Gallery, London, as 'Study for Terrace and Steps'.
Private collection, Salford, 2005.

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Lot Essay

Maryport in Cumbria was a fruitful hunting ground for Lowry and this oil study, at first glance, looks like a fully-fledged oil painting; so finished is the paint surface, so carefully worked are the brush strokes. It is only its modest size that gives any indication that this is a study rather than a major work. On the other hand, there is a more than honourable tradition which enables so called studies, particularly when they are done in oil paints, on board or canvas, to end up as fully finished paintings. For example, Goya and Constable produced studies for some of their greatest works whose only limitations, if it was a limitation at all, was their reduced size.

I have mentioned Goya and Constable advisedly since, if one is lucky enough to be able to contemplate 'study' and 'finished masterpiece' side by side on the same wall, there are occasions when the 'study' is indubitably the more appealing and, almost perversely, the finer painting. It is hard to rationalize this; the only possible explanation that comes to my mind is that the first impetus of the original act of creation is sufficiently powerful to overshadow the later effort, regardless of the relative sizes of the two versions.

Be that as it may, and I am not suggesting that Lowry was in any sense the equal of Goya or Constable, this steps study has all the attributes of a 'finished' Lowry oil painting. It is driven, despite its diminuitive size of 9½ by 7½ in., by Lowry's obsession with steps. The composition is exquisitely worked out. The ubiquitous Flake White for every surface other than the steps themselves and the background wall, is infinitely varied, with the addition of green or pink for the right hand wall.

What is most interesting is that Lowry who was, to put it mildly, no supporter of abstraction, has here given us a painting which is both at first glance and then after detailed study, an exceptionally daring abstract composition which would be a pure abstraction were one to remove the embellishments of the street furniture, the TV aerials and the little boy about to tackle the stiff climb of the steps. The strength of contrast between the dark brown of the steps and the pallor of everything else is also a contrast more frequently found in abstraction than in pictorial realism.

This small study is a Lowry gem which packs a visual punch as vigourous as many of his larger 'finished' paintings.


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