Known for his paintings of industrial scenes, cotton mills, chimneys and ‘matchstalk men and dogs’, L.S. Lowry from 1960 until his death 16 years later, regularly left his home and travelled over the Pennines to sketch in Durham and Northumberland towns – continuing his great love affair with the North East coast.
He first landed in Berwick in 1932 after his father died of pneumonia aged 74, his doctor advised him to rest before taking on the responsibility of looking after his bedridden mother.
Lowry was devastated after her death in 1939 and with the worry and strain he considered a permanent move to Berwick ‘I’ve not cared much for anything since she died. I’ve nothing left and just don’t care’.
Did he spend days or weeks at a time in the North East ? I’m not sure but after retirement as a rent collector he based himself near Sunderland and a room in the Seaburn Hotel quickly became a home-from-home for one of the UK’s most popular artists. ‘I sometimes escape to Sunderland. I get away from art and artists.’
Leaving the hotel he would walk along Roker seafront making pencil sketches on hotel notepaper and the back of old letters. Lowry was generous with his work and gave a number of his drawings to people he met by chance.
He would catch a train, taxi or a lift with friends up to Blyth, Berwick, Bamburgh or Newbiggin. Constantly drawn to the coast he would stare out to sea, and was inspired to use the sketches as a basis for oil paintings ’Don’t start thinking I was trying to put over some message, I just painted what I saw’.
Lowry was interested in St Peter’s Church in Monkwearmouth and seven mile away its twin monastery St Paul’s in Jarrow. Nearby in Bede Art Gallery he would meet Director, Vince Rea, and on a number of occasions enjoyed talking with amateur artists in the gallery.
As mentioned in a previous post Lowry spent many hours at South Shields where the Tyne meets the North sea watching tugs, ships and fishing boats coming in. On the north side of the river is the notorious Black Midden rocks, before piers were built it was a graveyard for ships.
High up on the headland is Tynemouth Castle and Priory providing a dramatic backdrop. Lowry loved the scenery, the atmosphere, and above all, the sea.
He exhibited work at Newcastle’s Stone Gallery and became a friend of owner Mick Marshall. In later years he encouraged young artists to stay close to their roots rather than assume a move to London was necessary ‘No need to go to London to become a famous painter, you won’t find better lamp posts there’.
Sunderland Museum have an exhibition devoted to him and as a permanent reminder there is a Lowry Road and a new housing estate – Lowry Park, I think his mother would approve.
Gary Alikivi December 2021
L.S. Lowry by Michael Leber & Judith Sandling
L.S. Lowry in the North East published by Tyne & Wear Museums 2010.