L.S. Lowry had been elected a full member of The Royal Academy of Arts two years prior to painting Two Men Talking. The fact that this recognition had taken so long to arrive, was a reflection of the art establishment’s inability to accept Lowry as a serious artist, in stark contrast to the enormous popularity of his work with the public.
In the years leading up to Two Men Talking, Lowry had gained great commercial success with his industrial landscapes. There was enormous demand for these paintings, a great vindication for Lowry of the importance, integrity and beauty of the subject matter that he had painted for nearly forty years. At this time Lowry decided to change direction, having no more desire to paint such pictures. The landscape of Britain was in flux, and in a remark to Frank Mullineux, Lowry said ‘The strangest thing is that when the industrial scene passed out in reality, it passed out of my mind. I could not do it now, but I have no desire to do it now, and that would show’. The subject matter that had been a key part of his life, factories with belching chimneys, dingy streets of terraces, and dirty canals was fast disappearing, either destroyed in the Second World War, or cleared away in the frenzy of post-war development.
The figure studies that Lowry chose to paint, following the landscapes were closely observed, and in many cases included unfortunate figures, sometimes known as grotesques. Many can be recognised as figures that populated his industrial landscapes. Two Men Talking is a fascinating study of two figures most unusually placed on a rarely used predominantly red background. Lowry was producing figure paintings at this stage that were set in an almost abstract setting, with almost no use of shadow, most often within a plain background, as is the case with this painting. Although the title is somewhat neutral, you can see the tension building; the erect stance of the figures, with arms straightened and fists clenched, the down-turned grimacing mouth on the shorted figure as he looks in anger at the taller figure who goads him with an arrogant lazy-eyed face. In Two Men Talking the red background brings out the tension, intensity and anger present in the figures and the clearly defined vertically incised surface of the background, whilst pushing the two figures to the foreground adds to the sense of an imminent explosion of anger and violence.