This Matchless Man of Honour; Critic's Choice

Daily Mail (London), January 9, 2004 | Go to article overview

This Matchless Man of Honour; Critic's Choice


Byline: TOM ROSENTHAL

L.S. LOWRY: CONVERSATION PIECES: Andras Kalman in Conversation with Andrew Lambirth (Chaucer Press, [pounds sterling]25)

LS LOWRY, one of England ' s finest painters and, if sales of postcards and reproductions are any indicator, possibly the most popular British artist of the 20th century, was born in Manchester in 1887 and died in the nearby village of Mottramin-Longdendale in 1976.

Frequently condescended to by the art establishment as both self-taught and na've, Lowry by the time he died had been much admired by such eminences as Sir Herbert Read and E.H. Gombrich.

The irony is that, although he earned a living as a rent-collector in Salford, he was neither self-taught nor na've.

He went to Salford School of Art for five years and both his imagery and his painting technique were immensely sophisticated. He became a Royal Academician of which he was immensely proud, but he refused a knighthood and several other honours, partly out of modesty and partly because: 'I think it would be degrading; I've very strong opinions about honours - they are ten a penny.' Yet today, a large collection of his pictures is housed in a Salford arts centre that bears his name.

He is always referred to as the painter of 'matchstick men', an absurd display of critical snobbery and sheer blindness. If you look carefully, you see that even the slightest and most rudimentary figures in his teeming crowds are miracles of scrupulously drawn individual humanity; always painted with compassion and humour and never with contempt.

man, he respected people in all their forms and, although he died rich, he lived modestly in a two-up, two- down stone cottage, barely heated by primitive electric fires.

He was, however, gregarious, always very good company and, though he never married and almost certainly had no sexual relationships, was a mentor to several fine women painters. He obsessively painted a beautiful woman called 'Ann' who was simply an imaginary projection of his ideal female.

Much has been written about him, but apart from Shelley Rohde's excellent biography, there has until now been no proper art book that gets to the heart of his work.

So all Lowry lovers are in debt to the critic Andrew Lambirth, who has set out the free-flowing reminiscences of the man who probably knew him best and understood him and his work with the most subtle perception and warmth, Andras Kalman.

Kalman, now in his 80s, was a Hungarian refugee in 1939 and settled, via Leeds and Bolton, in Manchester. He eked out a living as a tennis coach - he had played to professional level in Hungary and England - and opened a small art gallery in Manchester in 1949. …

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