Saturday, 2 February 2019

Lowry & The Pre-Raphaelites

Dante Gabriel Rosetti - Venus Verticordia, 1868

To The Lowry, Salford, whilst in Manchester to catch Lowry & The Pre-Raphaelites. I was quite surprised by this exhibition as I could never have imagined a more unlikely pairing stlylistically given the escapist, dreamlike nature of the Pre-Raphaelites against Lowry's mature "matchstick" painting style. Lowry though had a real admiration for the art of the Pre-Raphaelites (particularly Rosetti), and obsessively collected pieces that he could afford at a time when Pre-Raphaelite artworks were deemed unfashionable and fell out of favour with collectors in the 1950s. This exhibition includes Pre-Raphaelite works previously owned by Lowry which were displayed in his home, as well other works by the group that inspired him. 

 L.S. Lowry - Self Portrait, 1925

As a youngster growing up in Manchester Lowry had access to works such as Rosetti's Bower Meadow 1872, and Madox Brown's Wilhelmus Conquistador (The Body of Harold) 1861 in the Manchester City Art Gallery, as well as Brown's murals depicting the development of Manchester in the city's town hall. In 1911 there was a seminal exhibition in the city of Pre-Raphaelite artwork. Lowry owned a copy of the exhibition catalogue which proved to be very influential on him as a young painter. This exhibition contains many of the works which were on display in that 1911 exhibition as well as Lowry's own copy of the original exhibition catalogue. 

A picture of Lowry's bedroom containing some of his Pre-Raphaelite art collection
(picture by Denis Thorpe)

After retiring from his "day job" in 1953, Lowry used the proceeds from the sales of his own works and his pension to begin his own collection of Pre-Raphaelite artworks beginning with a Rosetti drawing. He went on to collect pictures by others in the Pre-Raphaelite circle, but concentrated on those created by Ford Madox Brown whose draughtsmanship and composition he admired, and more specifically Rosetti's femme fatales, stating - "Rosetti is the only one I ever wanted to posess". Lowry's purchase of Proserpine, 1877 for a record price at auction is thought to have been the catalyst for a reappraisal and new appreciation of Pre-Raphaelite art. 

 L.S. Lowry - Ann,1956

Lowry's Pre-Raphaelite collection was dominated by Rosetti's idealised depictions of the female image, and this was reflected in Lowry's own paintings where he created his own fictional femme fatale - Ann (above) - thought to be a female character who was a figment of his own imagination, because she has never been formally identified. Despite having female friends Lowry appeared to have a strange relationship with women. After the death of his father he was left to care for his domineering, bed-ridden mother. He never married and admitted to "never having had a woman". The Pre-Raphaelite depictions of women posess a certain distant, dreamy allure as well as a charged sexuality, and perhaps this is what attracted Lowry's admiration and decision to begin collecting these paintings.
Dante Gabriel Rosetti - Portrait of Jane Morris (Head of a Young Woman), 1870
The female models synonymous with the look of Pre-Raphaelite artworks include Christina Rosetti (1830-1894), Maria Zambaco (1843-1914), Jane Morris (1839-1914), Elizabeth Siddal (1829-1862), Alexa Wilding (1847-84), Fanny Cornforth (1835-1906), Annie Miller (1835-1925), Marie Stillman (1843-1927) and Ellen Smith (dates unknown). These women played key roles in the art movement as well as in the lives of the male artists, becoming lovers and wives, as well as models and muses. Some became painters in their own right.

Dante Gabriel Rosetti - Maria Stillman, 1864

Dante Gabriel Rosetti - Portrait of Alexa Wilding, 1866

Dante Gabriel Rosetti - Annie Miller, 1860

Dante Gabriel Rosetti - Dante's Dream at the Time of Beatrice's Death, 1875

Dante Gabriel Rosetti - Study of Jane Morris, 1875

Dante Gabriel Rosetti - Studies for attendant figures for Astarte Syriaca, 1879

Dante Gabriel Rosetti - Jolie Coeur, 1867
Dante Gabriel Rosetti - Proserpine, 1880
Dante Gabriel Rosetti - The Bower Meadow, 1872

Dante Gabriel Rosetti - The First Madness of Ophelia, 1864

Dante Gabriel Rosetti - Gardening (Spring), 1864

Ford Madox Brown - Romeo and Juliet, 1867

Ford Madox Brown - Byron's Dream, 1889

Ford Madox Brown was responsible for creating the Manchester Murals for the Great Hall in Manchester's Alfred Waterhouse designed Town Hall having secured the commission in 1878. The twelve mural paintings depict the growth and historic development of the city, and are regarded as being the perfect examples of complimentary art and architecture. Coincidentally when Brown moved to Manchester to complete the murals he lived in the same suburb where Lowry grew up and spent most of his childhood. You can certainly see paralells in Lowry's work with the heavily populated scenes bustling with human activity.

Ford Madox Brown - Manchester Murals, 1879-93

Ford Madox Brown - Manchester Murals, 1879-93

Ford Madox Brown - Manchester Murals, 1879-93

Ford Madox Brown - Manchester Murals, 1879-93

Ford Madox Brown - Wilhelmus Conquistador (The Body of Harold), 1861

Ford Madox Brown - Cartoon for Stained Glass St Editha, Tamworth, 1878

The Pre-Raphaelite artworks featured in this temporary exhibition sit alongside Lowry's own idiosyncratic artworks in the permanent collection of The Lowry and make for an interesting contrast in both style and subject matter. Although the Pre-Raphaelite paintings may not be to everybodys tastes, they have been well researched and immaculately executed from a technical viewpoint. Their subjects have been taken from literature and historical sources, and the colours are still vibrant and jewel-like. Lowry's paintings exhibited alongside them are rooted in reality and seem quite dour in comparison, with their dark, restricted colour palette and scenes of working class life. Some of Lowry's paintings from the permanent collection of the gallery feature below. Personal favourites were Coming From the Mill, 1930, and the calming sparseness of
The Lake, 1951.

 L.S. Lowry - Head of a Man, 1938

 L.S. Lowry - Discord, 1943

 L.S. Lowry - Man in a Trilby, 1960

  L.S. Lowry - Pit Tragedy, 1919

 L.S. Lowry - People Standing About, 1935

 L.S. Lowry - Coming From the Mill, 1930

 L.S. Lowry - The Lake, 1937

L.S. Lowry - The Lake, 1951

Lowry & The Pre-Raphaelites
until 24th February
The Lowry
Pier 8
The Quays
M50 3AZ