Painted in 1935 A Quarrel relates closely to two other works, depicting street disputes, The Arrest, 1927 (Castle Museum, Nottingham) and A Fight, 1935 (The Lowry, Salford). In the present work a solitary figure stands at the centre of the immediate foreground, looking at a fight that has broken out on the street in front of him. A number of other people appear to be drawn to the scene of these two men having the disagreement. It is possible that this altercation is a result of a disputed transaction in the shop behind them, with its generic sign 'DEALER' over the doorway.
Lowry once remarked, 'Accidents interest me - I've a very queer mind you know. What fascinates me is the people they attract, the patterns those people form, and the atmosphere of tension when something has happened ... where there's a quarrel there's always a crowd ... It's a great draw. A quarrel or a body' (quoted in Exhibition catalogue, L.S. Lowry, London, Barbican Art Gallery, London, 1988, p. 53).
This type of subject matter certainly appealed to Lowry and Michael Howard comments, 'Something of this hidden energy, of the life force that the working class of Salford and Manchester and elsewhere possessed in great abundance, may be seen in the comedians and the great tradition of music hall, of which the artist was a great admirer. Lowry's paintings, indeed his very types, are recreations of then-famous music-hall types, who were in turn based upon stereotypes of working-class people ... There is in fact much of the slapstick in Lowry, who was an avid fan of the silent films, especially the comedies of Chaplin and Mack Sennett, which presented a two-dimensional world of the absurd and the ridiculous. It is this spirit which informs The Arrest (1927) and A Fight (1935) and the many sketches of strange everyday incidents that surface in his work ... In his reminiscences of his childhood spent in the Salford slums Robert Roberts remembered well the entertainment value of street brawls and arrests. Lowry's paintings celebrate such happenings - episodes of free theatre - and perfectly catch the attraction they exerted' (Lowry: A Visionary Artist, Salford, 2000, pp. 138-40).
A drawing of the same title and very similar compositional structure and subject matter was executed in 1925 (see exhibition catalogue, L.S. Lowry R.A. 1887-1976, London, Royal Academy, 1976, p. 55, illustrated). In this work Lowry has included a different humourous title over the doorway in front of which the argument has broken out and written, 'L.S. WINDLER'.