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Lowry memories – new loan at the Walker

2 June 2010 by stepheng

Man looking at Lowry painting

Stephen with ‘Waterloo Docks’

I was fascinated to get close to LS Lowry’s remarkable painting, ‘Waterloo Docks’, now on a long loan at the Walker Art Gallery. This is a great work of art but when you try to analyse the picture’s qualities they are difficult to pin down. It is like a walk in the fields on a beautiful May day when colours and landscape become perfect for a passing moment.

Look at ‘Waterloo Docks’ as a complete entity and it forms a compelling whole but individual components seem no more than children’s doodles. This is the brilliant essence of its charm. Lowry, as his life studies prove, was a skilful draughtsman who developed his uniquely simple matchstick men style during years of painstaking study. ‘Waterloo Docks’ was painted on a visit to Liverpool in 1962, towards the end of Lowry’s painting career. It has been hung next to the gallery’s ‘Fever Van’, painted in 1935 – it is interesting to compare the two.

I never met Laurence Stephen Lowry but played a part in his story – right at the very end. I was a young staff news reporter with the Press Association – Britain’s national news agency – based in Manchester. Every day the agency sends out a morning schedule and on three consecutive days in 1976 you would have read the words: “MANCHESTER.  Lowry: Our reporter is waiting by the graveside”.

That was me. I was despatched at 8 o’clock one bleak winter’s morning to scour Manchester Southern Cemetery for the future resting place of the recently-deceased Mr Lowry. He had ordered that the funeral be private and no details released. Lowry was a very private man and did not want crowds gawping at his coffin.

Two gravediggers loomed out of the swirling mist, working next to a large stone monument. I spotted the name LOWRY just as one hastily pulled a piece of sacking over the inscription. I checked at the cemetery office and discovered interments were only between 10 am and 4 pm. I still had to wait three grim days by the graveside and amused myself doing sketches of the cemetery.

Late on the third afternoon, as dusk descended, the funeral cortege appeared – about 10 people pursued by a Manchester Evening News photographer. I followed them into the cemetery chapel where a clergyman said a few words before we all set off to the graveside.  The mourners included two distinguished gentlemen from the Royal Academy of Arts and Carol Ann Lowry, the young woman who inherited the artist’s estate. There were just three wreathes – one from the entertainer and sculptor Tommy Steele, a Royal Academy exhibitor.  After a few words, the coffin was lowered into the brick-lined grave and covered with earth.

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