Lowry’s drawings of the 1920s form the basis of his great industrial landscapes that were to follow in the forties and fifties and are an invaluable guide to the inner workings of his mind. The process of structuring his compositions, using simple subjects and scenes, can be seen to be the result of an almost mathematical construction combined with an instinctive, artistic genius.
There is a classicism to the drawings that is reminiscent of the Italian masters Lorenzetti, Piero della Francesca and Uccello yet the artist is handling the subjects, scenery and incidents of mid-20th century industrial England in a manner that is perhaps more like the work of the great Dutch artist Breugel.
Street Market is an exceptional example of the artist’s increasing fascination with crowds and the construction of dense and complex patterns of figures. It is tempting to place the scene to a specific street in Salford in the 1920s, but to do so would be to miss the point. The artist is relating his experience of a whole way of life, a whole town, not a particular place. The buildings are recollections, the people an amalgam of his experience. That is not to say that this scene is a figment of his imagination; he knew the places and the people he depicted better than anyone.
Anchored by the same familiar buildings with their spires and cupolas, all overshadowed by a tall smoking chimneystack, Lowry has built up a complete lexicon of images to satisfy the most punctilious observer. Many of the artist's favourite characters can also be found within the scene: the schoolgirls with their hair in long plaits; the old men hobbling on their walking sticks; the errand boys rushing across the foreground; and the solitary figure, perhaps representing the artist himself, who stands and observes the people all around him.