Latest News

Mr Cornish & Mr Lowry: A Manchester painter called Lowry

His mother, who saw no beauty in his pictures, said, "Nobody wants pictures like this." His fellow students, who did not understand them, said it. The public, with their refusal to buy them, said it. Local councillors, regarding them "as insults to the people of Lancashire," said it. The Manchester Academy of Fine Arts laughed at Lowry, but his vision was distilled and its sharpness captured in his mind’s eye, and he became fascinated and totally absorbed by it.

In 1930, Lowry was invited to illustrate "A Cotswold Book" (his only commission). This was a golden opportunity for Lowry to create a positive impression with the publisher, describing himself in glowing terms, recent invitations to exhibit his work, and a recently completed Self-Portrait—featured today.

In 1933, Lowry exhibited with the Royal Society of British Artists, and an article published in the Manchester Evening News disclosed his full-time job as a rent collector. This caused an outrage, and from this time onwards, he studiously kept secret the nature of his job, which was only revealed at his funeral in 1976.

Lowry's father died of pneumonia in 1932. His mother became bedfast for the next seven years and completely ruled his life until she died in 1939 without knowing his imminent success. For nearly thirty years, from 1910 to 1939, when he had a first London exhibition, he painted without recognition, with a single-minded determination that enabled him to cope with repeated rejection. A breakthrough occurred as Lowry was approaching his fiftieth birthday when a director of the exclusive Lefevre Gallery visited the frame-makers James Bourlet in London and spotted one of his pictures carefully placed on a chair. The visitor asked about the artist, and the reply from Daisy Jewell, an old friend of Lowry and Director of Oldham Gallery: "Oh, he’s a Manchester painter called Lowry. We’ve been sending his pictures to exhibitions for years but they always come back unsold."

The young Cornish became exposed to the significant expertise and experience amongst the members of the Sketching Club. He was "taken under the wing" of Bert Dees, who had exhibited at the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, and whose brother John Arthur Dees had studied at the Gateshead School of Art and had exhibited at the Royal Academy. Bob Heslop had studied the art of screen printing under the guidance of teachers at the Guildford School of Art, and later the members were joined by Elisabeth Countess von Schulenberg (Tisa Hess) for two years. She had been a sculptor at the Berlin Academy prior to fleeing Nazi Germany. The members may have lacked formal art tuition, but they had access to the public library, which was based at the Settlement. Annual exhibitions were a notable feature of the Settlement, and visitors arrived from all over the British Isles. In 1939, Cornish was singled out for particular note, and his portrait of his grandmother was of exceptional quality. His drawings were later described by Andrew Festing (Former President of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters) "as good as any other artist in history."

The Settlement provided many enriching experiences for the members, and the theatre became a venue for touring theatre companies, including The Old Vic performing "The Merchant of Venice" during World War 2. The Settlement and its activities are historically important for the talent nurtured and mutual support provided during challenging times. Four of the members went on to receive national and international acclaim: Norman Cornish MBE, Sid Chaplin OBE, Arnold Hadwin OBE, and Tom McGuinness.

Following the death of his mother, Lowry was distraught, bereft, exhausted, and adrift. He was soon advised by his doctor to take a break for the sake of his own health, and because he always enjoyed the seaside and had visited the area previously, Berwick was an obvious choice. He locked his mother’s bedroom for 12 months and later completed the picture featured today. To be continued...