GIMME SHELTER: Lowry in the North East

In an earlier post about L.S. Lowry (1887-1976) I talked about the artist frequently visiting the North East, especially Seaburn near Sunderland.

In later life did Lowry look upon the small coastal town as his sanctuary to sooth his aching bones?

Lowry at Seaburn on the North East coast.

Day by day the big fella walked along the beach pausing every few moments to gaze at the sea as if the tide would reveal the answers he searched for. He tried hard to understand but received no answers ‘All I know is that I know nothing’.

He would say to friends ‘It’s all there. It’s all in the sea. The Battle of Life is there. And fate. And the inevitability of it all. And the purpose’.

He would watch the tide coming in ‘What if it doesn’t stop?  What if it doesn’t turn? What if it goes on coming in and coming in and coming in’.

Sitting on the beach stirring gravel with his walking stick he would ask ‘We are like these pebbles. Each as important as each other. We all have a place in the pattern of things. What is it for? Why are we here? What is the purpose of it all?’

Self portrait 1938.

At nearly 80 years old Lowry was becoming frail and prone to suffer from shingles. Ironically a touring exhibition that put him on the artistic map was one which ‘nearly finished me off’.

More than 100 pictures were shown in the 1966 Arts Council Lowry Retrospective starting in Sunderland and taking in Northumberland, Manchester, Bristol, with London the closing venue.

The work was Lowry in all his glory, from a 1906 still life to a seascape drawn from the window of his room in Seaburn Hotel in 1966, he wrote to a friend about the opening in Sunderland.

‘I went in on the Saturday afternoon and a good many people were there and a gentleman wore his hat all the time who I thought was the man who comes in to see about the electricity lights but who proved to be the Lord Mayor. He was very interesting and did say they never had a show like this one before and my expressive face flushed with pleasure at that and we parted great friends’.

Far from being the shy recluse he was at home, at times on tour Lowry retained a sense of humour and played the celebrity, some friends were heard to remark on his character and particular his contrariness. But he still worried about the exhibition.

‘This show has put years on me. It is not painting so much as the thousand and one things attached to the job that is the awful thing’.

‘It takes a long time to paint a picture I get £360 for. After the taxman, dealers commission and framing costs I get £107. Like The Beatles what do they get net? Won’t be very fabulous when everyone’s had their shots at it’.

‘Now I’m alright I can sell the stuff. And the blighters won’t stop buying them, that’s the annoying thing. I will have the Official Receiver “To what do you attribute your failure Mr Lowry?” “The fact I’ve sold too many pictures your honour”. And he’d say “Give him twenty years for foolishness”.

Lowry in the 1960s.

Near the end of the exhibition he fled from his home in Cheshire to the Seaburn Hotel ‘to restore my shattered nerves’. Another journey North leading some journalists to speculate about a permanent move to the North East.

Journalists are queer creatures’ said Lowry. ‘At no time have I ever said I was going to give up my house in Mottram and migrate here to the North East’.

‘Mottram is getting uglier and uglier if that is possible, but from my point of view it is a convenient place to live in as any other’.

There had also been rumours of his retirement, in an interview with a Sunday Times journalist at home Lowry said ‘I might do the odd seascape or a little sketch but I’ll never hold another exhibition’.

Waiting for the Tide, South Shields 1967. pic taken by Alikivi in The Lowry gallery, Salford.

The reporter was sceptical ‘He says he’s not going to paint, but in his back room there were some painted sketches which looked suspiciously like South Shields harbour and the stone piers. There’s also a white sea with a white sky, and a tanker waiting to come into harbour. Perhaps in his retirement Lowry will do for South Shields what Gaugin did for Tahiti’.

Another close North East link was Mick and Tilly Marshall who ran the Stone gallery in St Mary’s Place, Newcastle.

‘I have got used to this area  – there is a very good gallery and they have some good shows. The Tyne is a very alive river with a lot of shipping on it and to watch the ships come in and go out keeps me out of mischief’.

In his later years he was quite happy making frequent visits along the North East coast and found a lot of comfort staring out to sea, again questioning himself ‘Will my pictures live after I am gone?’

Sadly, following a stroke at his home, Lowry died of pneumonia on 23rd February 1976 in Glossop hospital.

Looking for Lowry in Salford Quays 2022.

In the UK there are many opportunities to see the big fella’s work. Here in the North East you can find his pictures hanging in Newcastle’s Laing Art Gallery and Sunderland Museum. On the border with Scotland, Berwick has its picture boards on the Lowry Trail, which I visited a few year ago.

Last year I went to the excellent Lowry in Salford and the Manchester Art Gallery, both well worth a visit, and yes he certainly lives on, and on and on. What was he worried about.

Check an earlier post on this site:

SAND DANCING IN SHIELDS WITH L.S. LOWRY | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

Alikivi   May 2023

Research : A Private View of L.S. Lowry by Shelley Rhode.

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