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Laurence Stephen Lowry, R.A. (1887-1976)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A CANADIAN ESTATE
Laurence Stephen Lowry, R.A. (1887-1976)

The Estuary

Laurence Stephen Lowry, R.A. (1887-1976)
The Estuary
signed and dated 'L.S. LOWRY 1944' (lower right)
oil on canvas
16½ x 20¼ in. (42 x 51.5 cm.)
with Lefevre Gallery, London.
Mr P.J. Liddell.
His sale; Sotheby's, London, 1 May 1968, lot 76.
with Crane Kalman Gallery, London, June 1995, where purchased by William I.M. Turner Jr.
Exhibition catalogue, L.S. Lowry: A Selection of 36 Paintings, London, Crane Kalman Gallery, 1975, n.p., no. 14, illustrated.
London, Crane Kalman Gallery, L.S. Lowry: A Selection of 36 Paintings, November - December 1975, no. 14.
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Lot Essay

Painted in 1944, The Estuary is a captivating example of L.S. Lowry’s fascination with life in the seaside resorts on the Lancashire coast during the first half of the 20th Century. An extension of the industrial townscapes for which the artist had earned his reputation, these scenes are usually populated by the artist’s regular cast of characters, anonymous figures that represent the typical working class individual that Lowry knew so well from his life in Salford. Transported from the city streets to the shores of the coast, they are shown in various everyday activities, walking and talking, enjoying the natural landscape and fresh sea air of the estuary and generally occupying themselves as they would in any of his urban scenes. By transporting them to the coast, Lowry conveys an alternative view of the life of these individuals, that of the relaxed holidaymaker enjoying a welcome respite from their busy, often overwhelming, lives in the city. In the present work, the artist focuses on a small estuary town whose sandy shoreline has been temporarily revealed by the receding tide, which has created a series of transitory pathways and spaces for the crowds to traverse that will disappear once again in just a few hours. Capturing a sense of the ebb and flow of not only the water, but also the people as they move through this landscape, Lowry creates an image that celebrates the tranquil, pleasant escapist atmosphere of life by the sea that drew British workers to the coast.

The seaside had become part of the routine of working class life in Britain in the late 19th Century, offering workers and their families a chance to get away from the hectic bustle of life in the town. Advertisements of the period consistently promoted the North West coast of England as an escape from the harsh environments of the industrial centres, with their newly developed seaside resorts offering clean, fresh air, sunshine and peace. These sojourns to the sea reflected an important development within British society – along with the music hall, the football matches, and the pub, they reflected a change in the social activities of the working class, which led to the development of new leisure industries across the country. As a child, Lowry had enjoyed holidays to Rhyl, Lytham St. Anne’s, and various other resorts along the Fylde coast with his family, and the shores of the Lancaster coast in particular left an indelible impression on him. The sea came to occupy an important place in his oeuvre, becoming a central motif within his painting to which he returned again and again. In many ways, The Estuary is a composite image, drawn from the artist’s memories of these many trips to the coast, in which he creates a collage-like scene that captures the atmosphere of these seaside escapes rather than one individual location. It is the hustle and bustle of the crowds, the relaxed and joyous atmosphere of these seaside towns, that the artist aimed to capture in such paintings, rather than any geographical record.

In the present work, people can be seen strolling along the edge of the water in small groups or pairings, while others sit on the sand, staring out at the water, as small boats bob up and down on the current or lie on their sides, their hulls sunken in the sand, awaiting the return of the tide. This serene, untroubled mood may seem at odds with the context in which the painting was created, as the horrors of the Second World War continued to engulf Europe. Although Lowry had been invited to become an official war artist shortly after the outbreak of the conflict, very few of his paintings from the early 1940s deal directly with the events of the war. Going to Work (1943) is a typical industrial scene depicting the crowds of Manchester as they make their way to work one morning, with just the subtle addition of a pair of barrage balloons in the background acting as the only reference to the threat of aerial bombing that hung over the city’s population at this time. Although Lowry acknowledged the bombardment in a small number of paintings, such as After the Blitz and Blitzed Site (both 1940), the majority of his work from this period continued to focus on the everyday activities and routines of the local population, who soldiered on with life in the shadow of the war.

With its meandering streams of water and people, The Estuary demonstrates Lowry’s innate ability to imbue his paintings with a complex compositional structure and sense of balance. This zig-zagging run of water at the centre of the composition divides the painting into two halves, and draws the viewer through the scene, the flow of the water and the protruding golden banks of sand directing the eye to individual points of interest within the painting. In this way, Lowry draws attention to the activities of each of the different groups of characters that fill the beach, from the small family on the right hand side of the foreground, to the interaction between a pair of dogs on one side of the water with another canine on the opposite bank, or the individual characters of the boats as they stand precariously on the sand, awaiting the return of the water, to the innocent playful children carrying buckets and spades as they wade into the shallows. Carefully choreographing the flow of individuals as they move through the composition, Lowry creates a series of little vignettes within the much larger scene, each of which convey an impression of the rich variety of activity and individuals visible in these spaces. In a conversation with the critic Edwin Mullins, Lowry explained his fascination with crowds such as those in the present work, and the diverse array of life that they offered: ‘You see Sir [he called everyone Sir], people think crowds are all the same. But they’re not you know. Everyone’s different. Look! [He became very animated, pointing at people walking by]. That man’s got a twitch. He’s got a limp. He’s had too much beer. That woman, she’s angry with her child. Those two have had a row; you can see it from their faces… It’s wonderful, isn’t it? The battle of life, sir. That’s what it is. The battle of life’ (L.S. Lowry, quoted in T. G. Rosenthal,
L. S. Lowry: The Art and the Artist, London, 2010, p. 183).

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