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Mr Cornish & Mr Lowry: A Tale of Two Artists Part 2

Both artists were influenced by their immediate environments. One day in 1916, Lowry missed his train to art school, but the view from the station steps became significant when he saw the yellow lights from the Acme Mills. His vision to paint the industrial scene was born, and he claimed "nobody had done it," although this was not entirely correct. For example, Dowlais Iron Works (1840) in South Wales and paintings by Joseph Wright of Derby in the 18th century.

Lowry was initially rejected by the Manchester Municipal College of Art, but a family friend, Reginald Barber from the local Sunday School, was Vice Principal of the Manchester Academy of Fine Art, and he said, "send the lad to me." Lowry attended three different art schools while working as a rent collector. One of his tutors was the French Impressionist Adolphe Valette, who became a huge influence. Lowry also experimented with the evolution of his figures, and Professor Millard suggested that "they all look like Marionettes and if you pulled the strings they would all cock their legs up." This observation appealed to Lowry and contributed to the evolution of his figures to become "people as automatons." He was later advised to use a white background to make buildings and people "stand out." He developed a characteristic style to suit the industrial and city subjects that he generally painted with a limited palette of five colors: ivory black, vermillion, Prussian blue, yellow ochre, and flake white. According to Lowry, he generally "invented the figures" in his pictures.

For the first thirty years of his life, his work was ignored, and in his twenties, when he painted some of his most famous pictures, he was often ridiculed as a "Sunday painter." He didn’t sell much of his work. In 1930, Lowry staged a solo exhibition of drawings at The Roundhouse, Manchester University Settlement, which was also part of the national Settlement movement.

Cornish was initially turned away from The Spennymoor Settlement Sketching Club because he was too young. He eventually joined and was influenced by the advice to "paint the things around you." He was denied an opportunity to attend The Slade School of Art because it was 1939, and he was in a "reserved occupation" and had to continue working as a miner. The members of the Sketching Club were gifted a set of oil paints by Mrs. Baker-Baker of Ellemore Hall, and Cornish also used pastels, charcoal, watercolors, and, from the early ’50s, a Flo-master pen as his career developed. Cornish's sketchbooks contain hundreds of observations of people in different settings who often appear later in different compositions. A selection of Cornish’s sketchbooks will be featured at the forthcoming Cornish/Lowry exhibition opening on July 20th, 2024, at The Bowes Museum.

The Spennymoor Settlement was hugely influential on Cornish's development as an artist when he joined "The Sketching Club." This "cradle of creativity" was also the stepping stone for other members such as Sid Chaplin OBE, Tom McGuinness, and Arnold Hadwin OBE. The members were steeped in landscape tradition, but without a doubt, the most significant influence on his development was Rembrandt. Like Rembrandt, he produced a series of self-portraits, but he was also fascinated by Rembrandt’s attention to the humble and mundane activities of everyday life. An early Cornish landscape study is included today alongside a similar piece by Rembrandt from 1650. After working underground, Cornish compared going to the Settlement to "stepping inside a warm woollen sock."