L S Lowry: A Life by Shelley Rohde - review by John McEwen

John McEwen

More than Just Matchstick Men

L S Lowry: A Life


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Shelley Rohde made an award-winning TV documentary with L S Lowry (1887–1976) and in the process became ‘an intemperate admirer of both the man and the artist’. Now, with the benefit of subsequently released private papers, she adds this compact picture-book tribute to the canon.

Lowry, an only child, had a reasonably privileged upbringing in suburban Manchester. Then his father, an estate agent, fell on hard times and the family moved downmarket to the industrial hinterland. Young Lowry avoided First World War conscription because of flat feet, and after his father died looked after his mother until her death. She was bedfast for eight years. He was fifty-two when she died and that he remained equally bound by her memory is an insistent theme. ‘Marry and make a life of your own,’ he once advised a similarly tied young man. His mother disparaged his artistic achievements and yet persuaded him to persevere. ‘She understood me and that was enough,’ he said. 

Professional opinions as to Lowry’s artistic merit differ but his reputation today appears bomb-proof against fashion, with his pictures fetching a million plus at auction and Salford’s Lowry Centre museum and arts complex booming. The prosecution is led by the peerless Brian Sewell: ‘I don’t care about his profound provincialism

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