On the Sands was painted at a turning point in Lowry's artistic career. During the 1950s he moved away from images of crowded industrial cityscapes to hone in on the people who occupied the streets themselves.
The present work hints at this shift in Lowry's attention from the general to the particular, to examine more closely those people who made up the crowds. Here the familiar white ground which is the base of so many of Lowry's compositions, is beginning to dominate. There is a sense of vastness as the boundary between sky and beach disintegrates; the boats in the backgroud literally dissolve into the distance. Against this backdrop, the pleasure-seekers on the beach are depicted enjoying the delights of a day at the seaside. Their gestures are enormously expressive; the protective stoop of mother to daughter, the absorbed chatting of friends, the bent head of a child captivated by the path of a toy boat and the numerous huddles of friends enjoying the fresh air.
Lowry attended art school on a part-time basis for over twenty years, but his vision is a completely unique one, inspired by the specific environment of Manchester and the surrounding area. He was particularly proud of the fact that he had never been abroad and never owned a motor car, finding enough to inspire his vision of humanity in his immediate surroundings. He wrote in a letter to his friend and patron, David Carr: 'There must be innumerable ways of looking at the same aspects of life. A silent street, a building, for instance, can be as effective as a street full of people to me. It is the outlook or message that matters' (see S. Rohde, L.S. Lowry A Biography, Salford, 1999, p. 318).
The sea held particular importance to Lowry throughout his life. In his youth, holidays were spent at Lytham St Annes on the Fylde coast at Easter, and at Rhyl, on the North Wales coast during the summer. Later he used the sea a a metaphor in many of his compositions for universal ideas regarding the insignificance of man and the isolation of human existence. The present work is however, a celebration of the joys of the seaside, although this beach is not an overcrowded one. An earlier composition The Beach from 1941 is densely filled with people who are more obviously refugees from the big city, clothed formally in suits, many still wearing their bowler hats. In the present work, Lowry has emptied any references to the hustle and bustle of city life and the focus lies on the beach as a haven of peace and relaxation.