The Waterloo Dock, Liverpool is a large-scale masterpiece in which Lowry has included dominant architectural features alongside a typical cast of fascinating characters. Much of the present work is painted in Lowry's trademark flake white paint and there is a strong link with his minimal seascapes.
In the 19th Century, Waterloo Dock had been the embarkation point for emigrants to the Americas. A picture, The Embarkation, Waterloo Docks Liverpool, in the Illustrated London News of 6 July 1850 shows a scene of frenetic activity, both fear and hope visible on emigrants' faces. William Gavin Herdman's engraving, The Waterloo Dock Quayside from Modern Liverpool Illustrated, 1864, is a much more relaxed interpretation of the scene. Herdman's engraving is also curious in that it shows a rotunda that could well be the model for the building in the foreground of Lowry's picture, although it is not certain that this structure was still standing in 1962. In 1974 photographs of the docks, the double headed lamposts of Lowry's picture are clearly visible, but so too are substantial ships and cranes, both absent from Waterloo Dock.
In 1962, the year Lowry painted the present work, he also painted The Liver Buildings, Liverpool, (sold in these rooms on 6 June 2006, lot 196 for £1,072,000).