BOOK REVIEW – SHELLEY ROHDE – A PRIVATE VIEW OF L. S. LOWRY 1979 Methuen Press.

 

A long and beautiful biography of Manchester’s most famous 20th century artist, L. S Lowry, famous for his pictures of lonely, alienated people in crowds, set against the backdrop of Manchester’s declining cotton mill industry.  Lowry was himself a lonely and very eccentric individual, who worked as a rent collector even when his paintings began to sell.

 

In his early years, he got less recognition, and his domineering Mother never acknowledged his talent, though he craved her approval. He never married, and seems to have remained celibate all his life, though he had strong platonic relationships with many young women. He created a myth that he was in love with a girl called Annie, though she seems to have been a composite character based on his many platonic loves. After his death, a series of paintings of the mysterious Annie were found, depicting her being knifed, and mutilated.

 

It is the crowd scenes and the lonely grotesques that give Lowry his immortality though. Scorned and ridiculed by the art world that rarely took him seriously, Lowry was often ripped off by people who admired his paintings and got him to sell them to them very cheap and then sold them at art auctions for a fortune.   He actually had many friends, though each was led to think that they were among his few, as he was careful to avoid having friends meet each other, so each thought he was intensely lonely. In many ways, he was, as he often felt alone even in crowds, and his grubby raincoat and surly nature often made people keep their distance from him.

 

Many of his paintings were destroyed when he left his parental home after their deaths. The new owners threw out all the work he had left behind. Lowry often lived in squalor, and untidy environments. His Mottram house had wallpaper hung up with drawing pins.

 

There are many great moments in the book. Lowry, visiting a friend who had some of his work, pointed out that one painting in the man’s collection was a fake. The friend refused to believe Lowry and suggested that they should consult an expert to find out if it was really a fake, as if the artist wouldn’t know.

 

Rohde, a Granada TV reporter, met Lowry many times before his death (she died herself a few years after publication). Her book lovingly captures the eccentricities and wry humour of the man who hated public galleries for the way they kept many paintings away from public view. Today, the Lowry Centre displays hundreds of the great man’s work for all to see. The gallery, and this book, along with the Brian & Michael folk song ‘Matchstalk Men & Matchstalk Cats & Dogs’, ensure that Lowry has a place alongside Picasso, Dali and other giants of modern art.

 

 

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