LAURENCE STEPHEN LOWRY, R.A. (1887-1976)
LAURENCE STEPHEN LOWRY, R.A. (1887-1976)
LAURENCE STEPHEN LOWRY, R.A. (1887-1976)
LAURENCE STEPHEN LOWRY, R.A. (1887-1976)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED BRITISH COLLECTION
LAURENCE STEPHEN LOWRY, R.A. (1887-1976)

Unemployed

Details
LAURENCE STEPHEN LOWRY, R.A. (1887-1976)
Unemployed
signed and dated 'L.S. LOWRY 1937' (lower left), signed again and inscribed "UNEMPLOYED' L.S. LOWRY' (on the canvas overlap)
oil on canvas
20 1/2 x 16 3/4 in. (52.1 x 42.5 cm.)
Painted in 1937.
Provenance
with Lefevre Gallery, London, where purchased by the present owner in January 2003.
Literature
M. Howard, Lowry: A Visionary Artist, Salford, 2000, pp. 90-92, illustrated.
S. Rohde, The Lowry Lexicon: An A-Z of L.S. Lowry, Salford, 2001, n.p., illustated.
Exhibition catalogue, Lowry, Nottingham, Djanogly Art Gallery, 2011, pp. 77, 111, no. 62, illustrated.
T.J. Clark and A.M. Wagner, exhibition catalogue, Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life, London, Tate Britain, 2013, pp. 90-91, no. 39, illustrated.
Exhibited
Nottingham, Djanogly Art Gallery, Lowry, November 2011 - February 2012, no. 62.
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

Brought to you by

Angus Granlund
Angus Granlund Director, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

This is one of Lowry’s gallery of types: not so much a portrait of an individual as the embodiment in paint of a concept or state of mind. The painting is closely based on a life drawing he made circa 1910, when attending evening classes at Manchester School of Art. The sitter holds the same pose with right hand in jacket pocket and left hand on left knee, though in the pencil drawing the eyes look off to the right, rather than engaging with the viewer. It is often forgotten that Lowry went to art school and that he could draw with considerable technical competence in an accepted academic way. But he didn’t want to be that kind of artist, and instead had the originality to create his own style and idiom.

Beyond the superficial resemblance of pose, the painting has very little in common with the drawing. Here it has become an image of unemployment, in which every detail is made to tell. Notice, for instance, the wisps of hair protruding from either side of the man’s voluminous and ill-fitting cap, as if he were too hard up to afford a haircut, though otherwise he has made an effort to keep himself tidy and presentable. And look at the redness around the eyes, betokening lack of sleep (from anxiety), as well as hunger and fear. Although the red scarf is a cheerful addition to the man’s outfit, it is also a symbol of anger and, of course, political affiliation.

The confrontational nature of his steady glance — which stops short of being a glare but has all the ingredients in reserve — is also an appeal to us to be compassionate and give him work. Desperation could easily lead to violence or theft, but the future seems still to be in the balance. Lowry has chosen to depict the moment of uncertainty before any fateful decision has been made. But the man is clearly suffering and in decline: his face is drawn, and his clothes hang loosely on him as if he’s lost weight. His cap and boots look too big for him.

Lowry’s crowd paintings of mill workers always emphasise their head- and foot-wear, and the depiction of this man is no exception. The artist observed: ‘I like the shapes of the caps. I like the working-class bowler hats, the big boots and shawls.’ There is an element of identification here too. His friend, the painter James Fitton, described Lowry as a ‘long, thin, gangling figure, with boots that always looked too big’. Although this is by no means a self-portrait, there is usually a strong vein of empathy in his depictions of the poor, as if he were saying ‘there but for the grace of God go I’.
The present painting is also indicative of Lowry’s fondness for brick walls and their dramatic possibilities as a kind of demotic open-air stage. The bricks are beautifully painted and the spiked railings atop them offer a two-fold suggestion: firstly, of being shut out from a lawful place of work (indicated by factory chimneys and mill buildings in the background), and secondly, of imprisonment, if things go badly wrong for the man. An equally powerful but less socially conscious image is Man Lying on a Brick Wall, 1957, a later example of this type of composition.

Other portraits of single figures in this subset of social types include Manchester Man, 1936, Man with Red Eyes, 1938 and Young Man, 1938. This memorable group, all with hypnotic staring eyes, was made when Lowry was under great strain: he still had a full-time day-job, but he was also cooking for and nursing his ailing mother, as well as painting at night for as many hours as he could. Lowry said of these paintings that ‘they were done under stress and tension and they were all based on myself. In all those heads of the late 30s I was trying to make them as grim as possible. I reflected myself in those pictures.’

We are very grateful to Andrew Lambirth for preparing this catalogue essay.

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