Lowry claimed that he, 'only deal[t] with poverty. Always with gloom. You'll never see a joyous picture of mine. I never do a jolly picture. You never see the sun in my work. That's because I can't paint shadow'. Contrary to this, however, is the evidence of a group of works, to which the present painting belongs, that were executed in the 1940s and early 1950s, depicting beach scenes and bank holidays.
Although the ominous industrial chimneys are just visible on the horizon in Beach Scene, Lancashire, painted in 1945, the feel is one of holiday and post-war optimism: a multitude of colourful figures are indulging in seaside activities, a seafront hotel is prominent among the clustered buildings and there is a flotilla of yachts on the sea.
Another earlier composition, The Beach of 1941, shares many of the same elements with Beach Scene, Lancashire. Shelley Rohde writes that The Beach is, 'no conventional scene; it features bevies of men in bowler hats and business suits incongruously gathered on a sea shore, with a policeman in a helmet inexplicably emerging from the sea' (L.S. Lowry A biography, Salford, 1999, pp. 319-20). However, unlike the present painting, the focus of The Beach is entirely on the characters that people the expanse of sand. These figures, who are fully clothed, seem almost oblivious to the fact that they are at the seaside.
Closer in composition to Beach Scene, Lancashire is the 1943 painting, July, the Seaside (Arts Council). Interestingly, in the latter work, the sandy beach fills the right hand side of the picture, with the inlet of water on the left of the painting while in Beach Scene, Lancashire this is reversed. Typically of Lowry similar figures appear in both works and elements are repeated, including the pair of figures that appear in both paintings, lying completely dressed on the sand.
Michael Howard comments on Lowry's beach scenes, 'the figures walk and occupy themselves as they would in any of his urban scenes. It is in these compositions that he comes closest to the crowded but immaculately considered canvases of Brueghel. Lowry's instinctive feel for the ebb and flow of people in the city is here translated to the beach, where the movement of the figures is counterpointed by that of the sea. His scenes celebrate the landscape of discreet holidaying, a world away from the noisy, vulgar realities of Blackpool Pleasure Beach, for example, and suggest the more tranquil, gentler resorts a few miles further south of that centre of robust liberality and licence. Despite Lowry's alleged liking for fairgrounds, markets and places of informal mass congregation, it is significant that these highly visible aspects of seaside resorts are transposed into scenes of ordered behaviour. His crowds are always ordered, never threatening; any display of the liberated, carnival aspect of urban living, whether within or without the city, that may be found elsewhere in his work ... He celebrates the restrained, puritanical pleasures of doing nothing, or the banal activities that mask the private pleasures of observation and contemplation' (see M. Howard, Lowry A Visionary Artist, Salford, 2000, p. 231).
Throughout his life, the sea always held a particular fascination for Lowry. In his youth, holidays were spent at Lytham St Anne's on the Fylde coast at Easter, and at Rhyl, on the North West coast, during the summer. Later he used the sea as a metaphor in many of his compositions for universal ideas regarding the insignificance of man and the isolation of human existence.
When the present work was offered at Christie's, London in 1972 it realised the world record at auction for the artist's work.