This is indubitably a dark and gloomy Lowry and you would need a shaft of bright sunlight to make it otherwise and then it would look incongruous. As it is, it looks like an illustration for Zola's Germinal or D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers or The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd although neither novelist had quite the command of tragic mine workers and their families as Lowry shows here. The writer who springs at once to mind when one looks at this painting is Walter Greenwood and his 1933 novel Love on the Dole even though it does not deal with the plight of the coal miners but rather the overworked, under-paid factory workers and their families exploited brutally in the years of the Depression of the Thirties.
Were this picture not dated 1955 one would more confidently place it, on the stylistic evidence and the clothes worn by the people, as a work firmly of the thirties. One of the many ironies of Lowry's life and work is that Lowry was akin to Greenwood in painting while Greenwood was a literary Lowry. Both understood and depicted the lives of the poor in the 20s and 30s. While there is no record of their having met (unlike Lowry and Howard Spring) there is a record of their not having met. Greenwood visited Lowry when Lowry was still living with his mother who not only prevented their meeting but in best termagent manner actually drove Greenwood away from the house.
Inevitably in a pit tragedy there are present more woman than men, the men being for the large part underground. All the women, bar the one in the centre with her back to us, are dressed in shawls and the men are presumably the above ground workers: the small woman, in the centre facing us, has a mask-like face, as if she had been painted by James Ensor and the man on the left, depicted in anonymous profile is, for Lowry, a most unusual figure.
The mine offices are painted in close detail but the mine workings, including the cage are so buried in the background as to be almost invisible in a heavy white impasto bearing only sketchy outlines done with heavy nails or a palette knife.
It is unusual in Lowry terms because it carries a very heavy emotional frieght and has much in common with pictures like the 1936 A Family Group (City of Salford), also a deeply emotional work concealing but partly revealing some tragic circumstances. Indeed, the mother in A Family Group bears a distinct resemblance to the tall, bespectacled woman second from the right and dressed in green in Pit Tragedy, also indicating that perhaps Lowry painted it in the thirties and only dated it much later in the fifties.