Matchstick (Oars)men

Self-portrait by Lowry.

Tim Koch writes:

Chris Dodd’s recent piece on L.S. Lowry – “Lowry’s Grim Fairy Tale” on HTBS on 9 October –  notes that the Salford artist depicted a sculler in the detail of his painting Industrial Landscape 1950 and also some gentle leisure boating in a work entitled The Pond. There are, however, some other artworks by Lowry that are of even more interest to HTBS readers.

In 1942 or 1948 (depending on your source), he produced a painting entitled Agecroft Regatta showing two coxed fours racing on the River Irwell at Kersal Cell which is 2.5 miles / 4 km north-west of Manchester City Centre. In November 1997, it was sold to a private buyer for £350,000 / $558,400. Lowry also made two 10 inch by 15 inch sketches of the event, both very similar. One was sold in June 2011 for £68,000 / $108,500 and the other in May 2013 for £175,000 / $277,600 (a return of over 150% in two years for the earlier buyer).

One of Lowry’s sketches for Agecroft Regatta (from artdaily.com, here) The old Agecroft Rowing Club boathouse can be seen on the left with the flag flying. A club history is on the Agecroft website.

While it is a slightly more gentle scene than the artist’s usual depiction of harsh industrial life, I have found evidence that Lowry actually made the picture a little more ‘grim’ than he need have done. The website Kersalflats is dedicated to documenting the history of the area of Lower Kersal and in particular the public housing that was built there in the 1960s by the local government. Our interest lies in this page. It has a splendid collection of archive photographs of Agecroft Regatta, many from the 1950s, about ten years after Lowry made his sketches. Three of them are reproduced below as I think that they illustrate the fact that the old site of Agecroft Regatta was more attractive than that depicted by the great man.

Lowry was clearly standing to the left of this picture, looking right. The boathouse with its balcony and flag are quite clear. The house with the pitched roof to the right of the rowing club and the marquee next to that are also plain.

This picture is dated 1953, not many years after Lowry’s drawings. It does not suggest to me that (as the southern English sometimes say) ‘it’s grim up north’’.

1953 again. On the left of this picture is the boathouse, the building with the pitched roof and the marquee that Lowry depicted. However, he chose to omit the delightful scene on the right – a verdant riverbank, lush fields, half-timbered buildings and rolling hills. Clearly, these were not ‘Lowryesk’ subjects.


Of course, to criticise art for not being ‘photographically accurate’ is crass. L.S. Lowry’s ‘inaccuracies’ were what made him a great artist (and, perhaps, an even greater investment).

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