In 1909 Lowry's family moved to 117 Station Road, Pendlebury, between Manchester and Bolton, which was to become his home for nearly forty years. This move from the residential side of Manchester to an industrial suburb made a big impression on the 22-year-old Lowry: 'At first I didn't like it at all. It took me six years. Then I got used to it; after that, interested. I wanted to depict it. I couldn't recollect that anyone else had done it before. Finally I became obsessed by it, and I did nothing else for 30 years' (see M. Leber and J. Spalding (eds.), exhibition catalogue, L.S. Lowry, Salford Art Gallery, 1987, p. 68).
Painted in 1951, Industrial scene is a highly complex composite industrial landscape in which Lowry has combined many different elements to create an extensive urban scene, filled with figures and houses against a background teeming with factories belching out smoke. Lowry has packed this grand composition with a plethora of recognisable motifs: the terraced houses with red front doors; ominous-looking black churches; a viaduct stretching right across the painting; ball-topped gates; and red factory buildings with undulating roof lines. There is even a trademark solitary building occupying the central position of the canvas and in front of this stands another point of reference for the Lowry aficionado, a white noticeboard.
The typical elevated viewpoint, from which this work is painted, gives the figures scurrying about their business a particularly diminutive feel and they become almost engulfed within the urban spawl that fades into the background.
Michael Howard comments, 'What is the value, Lowry seems to be saying, of all this industrial frenzy in the face of our major spiritual concerns, our metaphysical loneliness and our disregard for our fellow man and the environment in which we live? Lowry's art, although informed by literature, theatre, film and art, is essentially a response to his private experience and he remains, like Blake, profoundly personal and inimitable. He shares with many the acceptance of 'nothingness' as the source of true reality. The city in Lowry's work is a place where natural relationships are impossible to sustain. Man's fragile identity with the natural rhythms and cycles has been broken by the industrial processes and his world is reduced to a timeless, seasonless, weatherless place. His paintings are articulate testimonies to such primal fears expressed through the remorseless spread of the urban fabric and the revenge of nature. What Lowry in effect presents is a denial of nature, the terrifying vacuum behind the apparent solidity of buildings and purposeful actions. All man's structures are temporary, and one day will disappear into the flake-white nothingness from which they were created' (see Lowry: A Visionary Artist, Salford, 2000, pp. 157-58).