The present work belongs to a group of pictures from the middle of the 1930s in which the artist presents a theatrical incident to the viewer which had occured to punctuate the daily life of the city. These works are usually created in a vertical format, much rarer for Lowry than his characteristic landscape format, and as such, create a sense of drama and focus for the viewer as if he is witnessing a scene from a play. Many of these vertical format pictures seem to have been created from the artist's architectural drawings of the 1920s, which also capture incidents in the street life of the day witnessed on his regular walks around the city, and through which Lowry begins to introduce his regular cast of characters.
In this example, a group of school children have formed to dance around a maypole, which they are carrying around the local streets, and the spectacle has attracted a group of onlookers. Lowry's familiar characters have assembled to watch the crowning of the May Queen who is dressed in a veil, and the witnesses include a mill worker in her shawl and clogs with her flat-capped husband and child, as well as a well-dressed lady in a red hat and neatly-clothed daughter. An elderly bowler-hatted gentlemen walks across the foreground, on the viewer's side of the fence, which links this character with the audience who are watching the scene unfold. The street child in the top hat who appears to be negotiating with a shady figure leaning against the side ofthe warehouse building, gives a pantomine sense of good and evil as the innocence of the May Day ceremony unfolds behind him.
Michael Howard remarks of the pictures from this period, which include An Organ Grinder, 1934 (Manchester City Art Gallery); Street Scene, Cul-de-Sac, 1935 (Atkinson Art Gallery, Southport); and The Fever Van, 1935 (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool), and the dominating architectural features that they include: 'in some works a building, a group of figures or structure may gather around a central vanishing point, in others Lowry carefully leaves the centre of the composition empty, placing the major elements of his picture around that emptiness and creating one of the his favourite gambits,a non-hierachical composition. Balance is always preserved whatever the asymmetry or symmetry that is employed. The shapes are simple and clean; his figures and street furniture are clearly articulated against a pattern of horizontals and verticals, creating a stage set of façades against which his figures, or puppets are set. Such compositional procedures, together with his use of white, his lack of shadows and his caricatural drawing style remove the images from any notion of 'realism' and instead accentuate their artificial nature. This was Lowry's way of reconstructing his subjective experience for his and the viewer's consumption' (see M. Howard, Lowry A Visionary Artist, Salford, 2000, p. 134).
May Day, a keypicture from the mid-1930s has had very little public exposure to date, having been exhibited only once, in 1939. It has only appeared at auction once before, when it was acquired by the present owners.