On a research trip to the Lowry Gallery in Salford, I had one of those slightly odd experiences where art and life intersect. The image above is Lowry’s uncomfortable and uncomfortably named The Cripples (1949). When challenged that he could not possibly have encountered so many people with disabilities, Lowry hauled his sceptical interlocutor round post-war Manchester to prove a point. Waiting for a delayed tram to Salford Quays I conversed with an unkempt man who explained that because he had been sectioned he got no dole. As I was making notes in the Gallery, a small group of people with physical disabilities and learning issues came in. Their carers evinced shock at the picture’s name, though the image which elicited the strongest response from one of the group was The Bedroom, Pendlebury (a dingy tribute to van Gogh’s Bedroom in Arles). The degree to which Lowry mocked or empathised with his subjects generally is debateable and though this image shows scant evidence of the latter quality he did undoubtedly appreciate the impact of misfortune and trauma. What is clear, surely even to the sceptical, is that austerity Britain would provide him with plenteous subject matter today.
There are 25 Lowries currently hanging in the Lowry-Berry exhibition at the Potteries Museum. The Lowry in Salford holds a large permanent collection – both demonstrate that Lowry was not simply a painter of industrial landscapes populated with ‘matchstick men’.