Grimy streets provide inspiration for artist

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 January, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 January, 2004, 12:00am

'Good morning, Mr Lowry! How are you today?' The old man mumbles a few words of greeting but does not look up from his sketchbook.

He has been standing on the street corner for almost an hour, his head slightly bowed, one hand tightly gripping a pencil and the other holding his sketchpad. He looks up for a few moments, staring down the busy street. He is a tall figure wearing a raincoat and a brimmed hat. The local people are used to seeing him draw sketches of their neighbourhood. Lowry is doing what he likes best. He loves drawing the people, streets and factories of Manchester, his hometown.

When he has finished his pencil sketch, he will go back to his studio and carry on working on an oil painting. He sees a beauty in the grimy streets of industrial Manchester that no-one else does.

Laurence Stephen Lowry was born in a suburb of Manchester in 1887. He loved drawing when he was a child, and in his teens he paid for himself to have art lessons at Manchester Municipal College of Art. He was an only child and he lived with his parents until they both died in the 1930s. After that, Lowry lived alone in the family house.

For most of his life, Lowry worked as a rent collector in Manchester and nearby Salford. Wherever he went, he took a small sketchbook with him and drew hundreds of pencil sketches of the local life that was all around him. His job collecting rents took him into some of the poorest districts of Manchester and there he found ideas for his paintings. He worked every night in his studio, painting until well into the early hours of the morning. During the 1930s, he sold some of his work in Manchester and Salford and, after an exhibition in London in 1939, his career as an artist began to slowly take off. But he waited until 1952 before he gave up his job as a rent collector. By now his paintings of stick-like figures against the industrial landscape of Manchester were becoming famous, but this did not change the way in which Lowry worked. He was an ordinary man with an extraordinary talent and he continued painting in Manchester until he died in 1976.

Lowry is now recognised as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century and his work is sold for record sums of money all over the world.