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13 November 2014

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You are in: Manchester > Entertainment > Arts, Film and Culture > Arts and Literature > The Lowry debate

Going to Work, 1959 (c) LS Lowry

Going to Work, 1959 (c) LS Lowry

The Lowry debate

We all know a Lowry when we see one, with its characteristic matchstick figures bustling through a Northern industrial landscape. He also painted striking portraits and seascapes. But how important is Lowry in the history of British art?

The first ever Lowry debate is being held to discuss the relative merits of the Salford artist following continuing criticism that his work was little more than a nostalgic celebration of a Northern way of life, now long gone.

Portrait of Ann, 1960 - by LS Lowry

Portrait of Ann, 1960 (c) LS Lowry

In the debate at London’s South Bank Centre (Sun 1 Feb), two of Britain's most accomplished cultural commentators go head to head to discuss their contrasting views on the artist.

The art critic Brian Sewell has previously written that Lowry was "a nincompoop", whose "ponderously booted matchstick men, urban idiots and pop-eyed portraits are the work of a trivial painter, a man of tricks, mannerisms and small things".

However, Manchester-born novelist and broadcaster Howard Jacobson argues that Lowry is underrated and seriously misunderstood.

A keen advocate of his wider work - from dark and complex portraits to melancholic seascapes -  Jacobson also argues that Lowry’s supposed provincialism was in actual fact a rejection of art world snobbery.

  • The debate has been organised by The Lowry in Salford - home to the world's largest public collection of works by LS Lowry.

Have Your Say

What do you think of Lowry’s work? Iconic images of working class life? Or quaint Northern clichés of little consequence?

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Your comments

B J Nicholson, 63 from Manchester

Rubbish. If his paintings hadn't been bought and 'bid up' at subsequent auctions we would never have heard of him.

Eddy Rhead, 38 from Manchester

I consider anything that Brian Sewell dismisses as actually an indication that it is worth looking at. The man is an irrelevance and I continually fail to understand why anyone even listens to what comes out of his mouth never mind value his opinion. Its just a shame that he is still being given opportunities like this to drone on in that ridiculous manner of his when frankly he should have been sent to The Home For Aged Twits many years ago. I know he gets a nose bleed if he has to wander outside of the Circle Line so its telling that this debate is happening in London. I'm sure, however, that if he could be persuaded to leave the cultural theme park that is our capital and come to Salford then we could be guaranteed of a more lively and relevant debate.

Phil, 57 from Wigan

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, therefore the popularity of Lowry's work makes this successful art. Successful art is defined by what the observer makes of it, not some pretentious opinion of a so called 'expert'.

Chris Knight, 55 from Cheadle Hulme

I would have thought that our  Northern 'writer', whose major tool is the English language would have known that the word he needed was self-deprecation and not self-depreciation. Given that he does not have a full command of his own branch of the arts, is he qualified to comment on another?

S Murphy, 49 from Urmston

Lowry was committed to his work and like all artist has works of great individual beauty and others that are not so successful. He is not just a painter of the period but one that offers great insight into how an artist develops and progresses as the landscapes and portraits depict. Always with artists work it is a question of taste, but surely everyone can appreciate the skill and focus of the man.

Rod Cartner, 76 from Lancaster

The first original Lowry I ever saw was in the Tate Gallery - which is beloved by our Metropolitan cousins.  How many of them know (including Sewell) that this gallery was a gift to the nation by fellow Lancastrian Sir Henry Tate?

Fiona, 33 from Stockport

I like Lowry's art work because he gained inspiration from the everyday urban views/goings on that we can easily pass by and ignore.

Kane Cunningham, 47 from Scarborough

Lowry was an accomplished painter who is knew all the tricks of his craft. If you look at his early studies of figures you can see he was a skilled artist and would reference the great painters of history in his work. If you look closely you will see a red hat a red scarf, or a red bus in the foreground all referencing the technique of JWM Turner who painted a red spot in the painting to create depth within the picture. These are skills and knowledge  of a great painter.

Andy Green, 48 from Preston

I find the works of Lowry a refreshing change from the sometimes over expressed and yes, some times over painted pieces that from time to time grace the walls of the galleries of the capital, and other galleries, hey what do I know? I’m just a northern bloke

Ian Knowles, 48 from Denton

L. S. Lowry's paintings are absolutely beautiful. They evoke the spirit of the North West of England in years gone by. These paintings ouse with character. I suppose this 'art critic' would consider something hideous by Picasso or a pile of bricks on the floor at Tate Modern to be a masterpiece, well Mr. Sewell you ought to get your eyes tested. I think Lowry is up there with Van Gogh and Monet. His art will live forever and this is the true test of greatness.

The Oldshevingtonian, 69 from Wigan

Whatever floats your boat, art is a personal opinion, everybody is right.

Kate from Irlam

I like the dogs - the little stick like dogs in the street scenes.

S Austin, 57 from Denton

If he had been French he would have been called a master, Look at Picasso, say no more, if you can see where I am coming from.

Helen Sherwin, 43 from Manchester

Lowry's  work, visually is as diverse, as it is cultural & historic;  his work can not be ignored! The pictures communicate work, rest & play, inclusive of the many facets of northern, human life, as presented at that time. The true diversity if his work is not celebrated enough beyond Manchester, prejudicing his talent & cultural knowledge, & thus reflecting on people in the north west.

Your thoughts on Lowry's paintings

last updated: 02/02/2009 at 12:02
created: 30/01/2009

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