Latest News

Lowry in the North East

Lowry had been a visitor to Berwick-on-Tweed for short breaks from 1933, although precise details vary. He was attracted to Berwick and at one point he considered buying a house there in 1947 as he 'got to know' some of the local people. However, an architect friend advised him that there were structural problems with the property and he didn’t proceed, although he continued to be a regular visitor to Berwick up until the summer of 1975. The house he was attracted to was known as 'The Lions' and later featured in a number of versions of 'An Island' that sustained his interest in dereliction. 'An Island is an old house long uninhabited, falling further and further into decay. I seem to have a strong leaning towards decaying houses in deteriorated areas.' The house is also a feature of The Lowry Trail in Berwick which opened in 2004.

During the war he found painting difficult under the circumstances but he became an obvious choice for a war artist’s commission. He produced two works as an official war artist and Lowry was also recruited as a Fire Warden. Following a suggestion from a friend he then moved to the Elms, 23 Stalybridge Road, Mottram-in-Longdendale and he disliked it from the start. When he arrived in 1948 the garden had been well maintained, but, through neglect had become a wilderness. There were over a dozen clocks in his home and each told a different time. He had a room as a ‘workroom’ and when working he enjoyed listening to the music of Bach, Bellini, Beethoven, Vivaldi and Haydn. Later in his career he found a replacement for the industrial scene by focusing on individual people, with varying characteristics, set against a white background.

He finally retired as an employee of the Pall Mall Company in 1952 at the age of 65 and the success and recognition he craved followed in many different forms. There were numerous TV documentaries during the 50s and 60s, many exhibitions, and several academic awards from universities in Manchester, Salford and Liverpool. Throughout his life Lowry enjoyed travelling to different parts of Britain and he drew and painted many of the places he visited. He never learned to drive, so he explored the country by train, taxi, or car driven by friends. South Wales was also a favourite however his relationship with the North East, was deeper and more lasting than any of the other areas. 'One day I was travelling south from Tyneside and I realised that this was what I had always been looking for.'

During the war Cornish was compelled to fire-watch in between working underground and trying to retain contact with the Settlement. Mining was a reserved occupation to ensure continuity of coal supplies for the nation and whenever possible he would try to draw people in everyday working situations, under and over ground. 1944 was a pivotal moment when Cornish met Sarah Bartley who lived at Trimdon Grange. Her father had been a miner and her grandfather was a founder member of the ‘Blackhall Colliery Band.’ Cornish had been rejected by the parents of a previous fiancé because 'he was a miner.' Overcoming prejudice was to become a continuing thread weaving through the fabric of his life at different times and in many circumstances.

As a member of the Settlement Sketching Club Cornish was able to borrow authoritative books about famous and influential artists. Men of talent, but limited resources, were thus able to access the outside world via the medium of print. Life at the Settlement also enabled other arts-related experiences for the young Cornish and in April 1944 he was privileged to arrange paintings at the Settlement for a national touring exhibition organised by the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts, which was a forerunner of the Arts Council. The exhibition included works by artists of the calibre of Vanessa Bell, Augustus John, Walter Sickert, Maurice de Vlaminck and Jacob Epstein. This experience was to become a significant factor in his invitation to be involved in the innovative 1947 exhibition 'Art by the Miner,' in London.

Cornish’s first one-man exhibition was at the ‘Green Room’ at the People’s Theatre in Newcastle and this was followed by the marriage of Norman and Sarah Cornish, and also the first awakening of national interest in his work as an artist. During their honeymoon visit to London Cornish visited the Reeves shop in Camden and discovered the Flo-master pen but he was unable to afford the drawing equipment which was later to become so important in his development as an artist. The fourteenth annual Sketching Club exhibition in November 1946 was to prove pivotal in the career of the young artist. G. Stevens, a London art exhibition organiser and professional artist, was quite taken by the quality of the work by Cornish. His visit to the Settlement was followed by another visitor, Dr R.W. Revans. He was Director of Education to the newly created National Coal Board and he bought five pictures for display in Hobart House, HQ of the Coal Board in London. One of the pictures is featured today and at the forthcoming exhibition at The Bowes Museum. 'The Big Meeting' 1947. In addition look out for ‘L.S. Lowry in Berwick and Northumberland’ The Granary Gallery, Berwick June 21st to September 21st 2024