Painted in the last year of the war, probably after V.E. Day judging by the work's altogether cheerful aspects, this is at once a very local work and a timeless, more or less universal picture. Timeless in that it represents the playgrounds my friends and I used for our enjoyment in the year of its execution and it is identical in both time and space, with Lowry's vision of childish and child-like happiness. So much for the darkness and gloom attributed to him by the 'matchstick men' school of criticism.
The Playground is part of the happy, even carefree, Lowry who painted Good Friday, Daisy Nook (private collection), the wonderful sea-side scene with the Punch and Judy show entertaining the crowd and many more fairground and beach scenes some years after Bernard D. Taylor, the art critic of the Manchester Guardian, the first critic to give Lowry a few kind words as a teacher with giving Lowry a solo appraisal. At that time Lowry's paintings were indeed dark and gloomy, prompting Taylor to hold them up against the dark and institutional background and exclaim: "This will never do. You'll have to do better than that. Can't you paint the figures on a light ground?" "How do I do that?" complained Lowry genuinely at a loss. Taylor, like all good teachers responded with the immortal words: "That's for you to find out". In other words don't expect to be spoon-fed. If you're going to be a real artist these are the matters you have to sort out for yourself.
Lowry's biographer, Shelley Rohde maintained that this encounter made Lowry furious but the fury soon abated as he understood Taylor's fundamental good will and wisdom. It is by no means fanciful to conjecture that Taylor's prodding stimulated Lowry's celebrated experiment with the application of seven coats of Flake White to a plain board which he locked up, hermetically sealed in a drawer, leaving it there for some seven years and, on unlocking the drawer, withdrew the board, to find that the 'drop' in the Flake White was just as he wanted it; the right colour and the right texture.
The Playground is particularly interesting and successful from this point of view. Your cannot really tell whether the surface of the playground is meant to be concrete or grass. But while Lowry uses a dark but varied green for the tree he definitely used the same, dense Flake White for the fields beyond the playing surface as he does for the ground beneath the slide, so that although this is a characteristically 'busy' and crowded picture, with over a hundred figures, something like three quarters of the painted surface is Lowry's beloved, multiple-coated white; yet the overall impression this superb picture conveys is of multiple, varied colours.