Painted in 1941 when Lowry was doubling up as rent collector and accountant for the Pall Mall Property Company in Manchester by day and, (being too old for active service), a diligent fire-watcher on central Manchester's rooftops at night, this picture is a tribute not only to Lowry's physical stamina (he was 54 at the time) but to his almost awesome organizational skills. This is not one of his paintings where he is part narrator and part inventor, where he has the the most rudimentary of black chalk outlines, and then, like a cook composing an elaborate mixed pie, adds piece by piece as if creating a jig-saw puzzle. This is a fully fledged, carefully thought out painting for which a most elaborate full scale black and white drawing has preceded the oil canvas (see note to lot 56).
It is full of several favourite Lowry subjects, welded by his almost whimsical juxtapositions, into an immensely satisfying unity. The vast number of people placed onto a not particularly large background - I make it 44 excluding the usual ration of dogs - are carefully divided into three separate spaces, just as they would be in real life, perhaps the morning after a bad air-raid. (I know whereof I write since I spent my wartime childhood in Manchester's long lasting blitz).
Typically the church that gives the picture its title is, with the exception of its tall thin spire, done in a neutral grey, almost invisible, as if it were hiding behind the houses in the background. Other Lowry 'signature' elements of the picture include the pair of columns with big stone balls on the top, a smoke belching factory chimney by the side of a gas-holder and centre left, a classical mix of railings and steps. Behind the steps, but only lightly sketched in, there is a clear vision of bomb-damage, complementing more damage on the right-hand edge: an upturned cart and behind the cart, one assumes that there is some further damage hidden behind the corrugated iron sheeting put up to conceal the holes and other destruction wrought by the previous night's bombing.
As always, what the ignorant call the 'matchstick men' are tiny little exercises in painterly virtuousity since, while as usual the dogs are more or less identical, the humans, whether children or adults, are all clearly differentiated and, using only his basic five colours, Lowry shows off these genuine individuals and characters against his beloved, even ubiquitous multi-shaded white which, despite the fact that all the buildings and people are depicted in such pain-staking detail, probably takes up nearly two thirds of the surface area of the canvas.
This is, in all senses of the word, vintage Lowry.