Lowry painted Good Friday, Daisy Nook, in 1946 and the densely populated canvas is testament to Lowry's skill as a painter. The large-scale canvas, packed with a multitude of figures, depicts the Lancashire fair held annually at Daisy Nook. At the time that Lowry painted the scene there were only two statutory holidays for mill workers, Christmas Day and Good Friday. The Easter fair at Daisy Nook, situated between Droylsden and Failsworth, near Manchester, is still held annually and run by the Silcock family, whose name appears in the painting. It provided a huge variety of entertainment for the crowds that congregated there.
The name 'Daisy Nook' was coined from a book written by Benjamin Brierly in 1855. He had asked his friend, Charles Potter, an Oldham artist, to draw an imaginary place called Daisy Nook. Potter's drawing was based on the village of Waterhouses and this rural spot on the River Medlock and from then on the area was known as Daisy Nook.
Although there is an industrial chimney, just visible on the horizon, the overall mood of the painting is one of holiday and post-war optimism: a multitude of colourful figures throng the painting, children are clutching newly-bought whirligigs and flags and groups of people crowd round the striped fairground tents and queue for the rides on offer, including the 'Silcock Bros Thriller', visible in the work.
Although there are a group of works that Lowry painted in the 1940s and early 1950s, depicting beach scenes (see lot 115) and bank holidays, he claimed that he, 'only deal[t] with poverty. Always with gloom. You'll never see a joyous picture of mine. I never do a jolly picture. You never see the sun in my work. That's because I can't paint shadow'.
Michael Howard points out that Lowry's figures never seem to escape the industrialisation that surrounds them in their working lives: 'Lowry's reduction of his living figures to the role of automata suggests a lot about his own private impulses; at the same time his puppets offer a well-worn but effective metaphor for the de-humanising effects of the industrial process. His doll-like forms, his stage-like settings, the very artifice of his artistic practice and his calculated distance as the maker of these images are the very reasons surely that Lowry's canvases are so powerful and evocative of the factory worker's lot. Even outside their working hours, Lowry seems to say, on their way to or from the mill, they cannot escape the industrial system which during their working hours controls their bodies and restricts their freedom of mind. Like a latter-day Doctor Caligari, he deploys their bodies and gives them only a limited range of expressive gestures, as though working in the mill has imposed restricted movement on them, reducing their ability to express themselves except by the most minimal of means' (see M. Howard, Lowry: A Visionary Artist, Salford, 2000, pp. 135-6).
Lowry painted a small group of works and executed a number of drawings depicting the Easter fair at Daisy Nook, including one currently in the Government Art Collection (fig.1). The present work is the major version and was chosen to be included in the 1978 Royal Academy exhibition. In the Daisy Nook paintings some groupings of figures and individuals recur. In all of them there is a sense of the ebb and flow of people that Lowry was very conscious of in his depictions of factory workers and industrial street scenes. The viewer's eye follows the movement inherent in this mass gathering of people, at times stopping on a single figure or small group, as if Lowry had punctuated the painting like sentences in a paragraph.
The composition of the work is typical: 'As with his industrial paintings, the crowd fills the foreground and the activities, both planned and unplanned, seem infinite. Everywhere one looks, something is going on. The tents and caravans form a thin line between foreground and background and act as a boundary to the scene. There are few rural scenes which Lowry could depict as he did his industrial ones, other than the great fairs. In this case, there is no doubt that Lowry was accurate in his rendition, particularly of that lonely chimney and building standing on the hill. When out bicycling near Daisy Nook, an aquaintance of Mr Lowry saw the artist and asked him what he was doing. Lowry had explained that 'he was doing a painting and had forgotten the outline of the background. He took out of his pocket an envelope on the back of which he had drawn the pump house and tall chimney'' (see J. Sandling and M. Leber, Lowry's City: A Painter and his Locale, Salford, 2000, p. 89) (see fig. 3).
Good Friday, Daisy Nook
Oil on canvas
London, Crane Kalman, L.S. Lowry A Selection of 36 Paintings, November - December 1975, no. 20, illustrated on the front cover.
A FOREWORD BY SHELLEY ROHDE
The June sale of a collection of six of Lowry's finest paintings is said to be one of the most important sales of his works for many decades.
Of course it is.
It would be hard to think of a posthumous Lowry sale that has not been so described.
Each one, it would seem, betters the last.
This is not in any way to deny the truth of such an assessment, not to accuse the writers of catalogue notes of salesman-like hyperbole, simply to acknowledge the originality, not to mention the diversity, of Lowry's work. It would seem that the very quality - the unique nature of Lowry's vision, his individual view of life - that was initially responsible for the inability of the art world of the time to recognise his worth, is the same quality that today makes each new collection that comes to market an event to be hailed with delight.
There is, of course, always good reason for greeting each new auction of Lowry paintings with enthusiasm. It might be a private collection long unseen on public view - such as that of the late Reverend Geoffrey Bennett; it might be one acquired by someone with a fine eye and a rare understanding of the man - such as that of the late Monty Bloom, possibly the most addictive of Lowry's collectors. It might be a special commission for a special buyer - such as Piccadilly Gardens which achieved the first of the record sale prices; it might even be one with a particular appeal for a particular public - such as Going to the Match, a Lowry-eye view of football fans streaming into Bolton Wanderers' stadium and bought for a record price of nearly two million pounds by the Professional Football Players Association whose Chief Executive had once played for that very team.
Or it could be the re-appearance of a truly iconic Lowry work - such as Good Friday, Daisy Nook (lot 114).
The keystone of this June sale of works acquired over the years by a discerning private collector, is not a painting of extraordinary humanity; it captures the spirit of a long gone age - Lowry's age.
Lowry in the forties was a man emerging from a debilitating period of mourning for his mother, a man beginning to discover himself and the heady freedom to follow his art wherever it might lead. Given such circumstances it was hardly surprising that it led to Lowry's most fruitful and imaginative work. No longer was he repressed by the demands of a dying woman, whom he nursed, without complaint, for the eight years she lay 'bedfast' at their home on Station Road, Pendlebury. No longer was he restrained by the petty criticism of the art establishment or the open laughter of his peers; now in his fifties, he had learned to disguise any hurt he might have felt by the simple expedient of assumed insouciance. He was the first to belittle the quality of his art (No, I don't think much of it myself - my brother, Fred, did it!) or to refute any importance it might have in his life (No, I never particularly wanted to be an artist; I was fit for nothing else).
There is no market in decrying a man who first decries himself.
He still had his job as a rent collector, of course; he not only needed that for financial security (it was to be many years yet - sometime after his retirement on a pension from the Pall Mall Property Company - before he could have supported himself by his art alone) but, more importantly, it fed his marvellous eye with the raw material of his unique vision.
All this, and more, is somehow implicit in the exuberant Easter scene of post-war Britain at play: Good Friday, Daisy Nook; and, indeed, in Beach and Promenade, painted two years later in much the same spirit.
At this time the Manchester Academy of Art had acquired premises at 10 Acomb Street where members were encouraged to drop in after Saturday afternoon life class for gentle guidance and a cup of tea. It was here that Lowry met Hugh Maitland, a Canadian who had been Professor of Bacteriology at Manchester University since 1910. He was an enthusiastic amateur artist (with none of Lowry's reservations about describing himself as such) and, in time, became so intrigued by his unusual new friend that he began a Lowry biography; he died before the project could be completed.
It was Maitland who first introduced Lowry to a man who was to become one of his earliest and most enthusiastic collectors, a man whose arrival in Lowry's life was to acquire a particular place in the artist's own telling of his personal history. In short Alec Laing became one of the first, if not the first, buyer to be awarded the accolade: Just as I was on the point of giving it all up, someone came along to keep me going ... It seemed like fate.
Laing was a General Practitioner of private means who may well have lived in a house much like The Mansion, Pendlebury (lot 117); it was certainly his style. He was already something of a modest art collector: a couple of Constables in the dining room, a Whistler in the bedroom, a Boudin in the living-room - all of which only increased Lowry's delight when, on a visit to Station Road, the good Doctor bought, without haggling or hesitation, three Lowry industrial works.
No one has ever liked them before, said Lowry and promptly declared Laing to be the hand of fate personified - a role later awarded to Monty Bloom for his affection for the grotesques and to Geoffrey Bennett for his purchase of the early line drawings (Just as I was going to put them on the bonfire).
It will come as no surprise to anyone even remotely familiar with the life and times, quite apart from the works, of Laurence Stephen Lowry, to learn that Alec Laing was something of an eccentric. Lowry was attracted to such people; he relished them. He not only enjoyed their company but collected tales of their doings with which to regale the more conventional of his acquaintances - not that there were many such Lowry's circle. It was as if the presence in his life of such free spirits gave Lowry, himself, the freedom to be as quirky as he might wish, without the danger of being set apart by his occasionally bizarre behaviour.
Laing was not only an eccentric but also an avowed atheist who displayed his disbelief with as much fervour as a convert displays his faith. He called his mongrel dog 'Jesus' and delighted in shocking the inmates of Ashton Infirmary where he was honorary pathologist, by stalking the grounds of an evening declaiming loudly, 'Jesus come here,' of even 'Jesus, heel!' Letters to Lowry invariably ended with the instruction: 'Trust in the Lord - and starve!'
He was an accomplished musician, although he refused to play his violin anywhere except the bathroom where he would perch on the edge of the bath and declare the acoustics to be better than anywhere else in the house. On visits to the Free Trade Hall to hear the Hallé the pair would pass happy moments, heads together like naughty schoolboys, speculating on the relationship of various members of the orchestra.
Laing, for his part, enjoyed the friendship and took Lowry to a variety of places in and around Manchester which they decided together might make a fine subject for a painting; thus did Good Friday ... come into being. Lowry became a regular visitor to Laing's canal side home where he would arrive for tea with a couple of his pictures, much as an uncle takes a favourite nephew on an outing. 'He liked to give them an airing, to see them in different surroundings,' said Maitland.
For me, as one of Lowry's biographers (in all probability one of the most intemperate of admirers in the land of intemperate admirers) the source of this year's particular interest is the sight, in the flesh so to speak, of Good Friday ... In more than thirty years researching the life and times of Mr. Lowry, I have had cause to refer and to examine reproductions of this painting on many occasions - but never, not even at the 1970 sale where the painting achieved a then record price of £16,000 for the artist, have I seen other than a print or a reproduction.
I am told that Lowry, himself, was at that sale. It seems that he was in London to take one of his fine collection of antique clocks for repair in Bond Street and, reluctant to leave it overnight, filled in the waiting time at the auction. He appeared delighted when the painting went for what at the time seemed an astonishing price. When asked for his reaction, he grinned and (paraphrasing Degas) said that he felt like 'the horse must feel when the jockey gets the prize.' He was, of course, only joking. This was no more than Lowry finding a neat phrase to fit the occasion; he was, as one critic remarked, 'God's gift to the journalists' or what today would be called; a master of the sound bite.
His more usual response to a request for a reaction to someone making money out of a work for which he had received only a modest fee was much more in character:
I am always delighted when someone who has shown faith in me when no one else did, makes a bit of money. After all, they bought when no one else bought - and people often thought them mad for doing so.
No danger of anyone being thought mad for bidding today.
Shelley Rohde's new book, L. S. Lowry, A Life was published by Haus in April.
Signed and dated 'L.S. Lowry 1946' (lower left)
Laurence Stephen Lowry
Laurence Stephen Lowry , 1940s, Paintings, oil, Great Britain, miniature, Figurative, townscape
Manchester, Academy of Fine Arts, L.S. Lowry, 1949, no. 195.
Manchester, Arts Council Gallery and City Art Gallery, British Painting 1925-50, 1951, no. 41.
Manchester, City Art Gallery, Retrospective Exhibition, June - July 1959, no. 44.
Manchester, Arts Council, City Art Gallery, Northern Artists, July - August 1960, no. 44: this exhibition travelled to Sheffield, Graves Art Gallery, August - September 1960; Newcastle Upon Tyne, Laing Art Gallery, September - October 1960; Bolton, Art Gallery, October 1960; Bradford, City Art Gallery, November 1960; and Carlisle, Public Library and Art Gallery, December 1960.
Sheffield, Graves Art Gallery, The Works of L.S. Lowry, September - October 1962, no. 42.
Sunderland, Arts Council, Sunderland Art Gallery, L.S. Lowry, August - September 1966, no. 50: this exhibition travelled to Manchester, Whitworth Art Gallery, September - October 1966; Bristol, City Art Gallery, October - November 1966; and London, Tate Gallery, November 1966 - January 1967.
London, Contemporary Art Society, January 1975, no. 94.
London, Crane Kalman, L.S. Lowry A Selection of 36 Paintings, November-December 1975, no. 20.
London, Royal Academy, L.S. Lowry R.A. 1887-1976, September - November 1976, no. 166. Edinburgh, Scottish Arts Council Gallery, L.S. Lowry, December 1977 - January 1978, no. 37: this exhibition travelled to Hawick, Wilton Lodge Museum, January - February 1978; Aberdeen, Art Gallery, February - March 1978; Dundee, Museum and Art Gallery, March - April 1978; Inverness, Museum and Art Gallery, April - May 1978; and Perth, Museum and Art Gallery, May - June 1978.
Kendal, Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Paintings and Drawings of L.S. Lowry, July - September 1979, no. 10.
Manchester, Whitworth Art Gallery, 1979, on loan.
Salford, The Lowry, Conversation Pieces, July - October 2003, catalogue not numbered.
British & Irish Art
30 x 40 in. (76.2 x 101.6 cm.)
M. Collis, The Discovery of L.S. Lowry, London, 1951, pl. 19, as 'Fun Fair'.
M. Levy, Painters of Today L.S. Lowry, London, 1961, pp. 13, 17, pl. 12.
Exhibition catalogue, L.S. Lowry, London, Sunderland Art Gallery, 1966, pp. 4, 14, illustrated.
M. Levy, The Paintings of L.S. Lowry, London, 1975, no. 19, illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, L.S. Lowry A Selection of 36 Paintings, London, Crane Kalman, 1975, no. 20, illustrated on the front cover.
Exhibition catalogue, L.S. Lowry R.A. 1887-1976, London, Royal Academy, 1976, pp. 26, 72, illustrated.
A. Kalman and A. Lambirth, L.S. Lowry Conversation Pieces, London, 2003, p. 93, illustrated p. 92 and front cover.
Dr A.W. Laing.
Property of Mrs M. Laing; Sotheby's, London, 8 July 1970, lot 53 (£16,000, then the world auction record for the artist).
with Crane Kalman, London.
Henry and Maurice Laniado.
with Ronald Lyon, 1973.
with Crane Kalman, London.