Piccadilly Circus, London (1960) is one of Lowry's rare paintings of London. He obviously enjoyed the patterns made by the designs on the advertising billboards, and the brand names and slogans that appear with various degrees of legibility. These passages of the picture are built up for emphasis, the paint deliciously crusted, either in sheer enjoyment of the medium or where he had to work harder to achieve the precision he wanted. But the advertising is curiously muted, though by the time this picture was painted, Piccadilly was a blaze of illumination, if not quite the neon super-buzz of today. The spectator has to work to decipher the brands: Coca Cola is the most obvious, despite its intensely painterly treatment, then Max Factor, Wrigleys, Schweppes and (half of) Bovril.
Lowry was evidently more interested in the traffic patterns - the flow of red buses interspersed with taxis and ancient-looking vans - and the press of people spilling off the pavements. The vehicular traffic is obviously slow-moving, as figures dodge between vans or run for buses, and the composition is organised around the dark hub of the fountain seen in silhouette with Eros atop it like a bird. Although dated 1960, the painting harks back to an earlier period, with its old-fashioned vans and pedestrian priority, a nostalgic past of Lowry's imagining. There are dozens of little touches which make this painting special; for instance, the grey-green front wheel of the van at bottom right which enhaloes the double profile of two figures walking together. Dogs provide some of the visual humour and incident, and the scene wouldn't be complete without a pram and a cripple - in this case, closely juxtaposed. Hats, sticks, umbrellas, bent and urgent figures, almost diagonal in their hurry, all form part of Lowry's masterly orchestration.
Lowry was adept at the facture of a picture - the handling of paint to reveal its expressive qualities. He was aware of the revolutionary developments in art at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, when Monet and Cézanne, Picasso and Braque first gave brushwork an important structural role in the construction of a picture surface. If you examine a passage across any of Lowry's paintings, you will at once notice the care with which the paint is laid on, with a visible attention to its emotional as well as to its formal qualities. Look at the rich grainy surface of Piccadilly Circus, London and the visible drag and sweep of the brush channelling the paint in broad blocks. Compare these bold marks to the equally fine touches of detail of clothing or stance.
Lowry's view of the Circus was painted in 1960, before Piccadilly Circus underwent reconstruction in the 1980s when the monument, and the focal point of Lowry's composition, was moved from the centre of the junction at the entrance to Shaftesbury Avenue to its present location in the southwest corner. The Shaftesbury Monument Memorial Fountain (1892-1893), was built to commemorate Lord Shaftesbury's philanthrophic works, and is most known for the famous winged figure of The Angel of Christian Charity, sculpted by Sir Alfred Gilbert, but universally known as 'Eros'.
Lord Forte owned the Criterion building and the sports shop, Lillywhite's which overlook the monument.
Piccadilly Circus, London
Oil on canvas
Signed and dated 'L.S. LOWRY 1960' (lower right)
Laurence Stephen Lowry
Laurence Stephen Lowry , 20th Century, Paintings, oil, Great Britain, Modern, townscape
London, Lefevre Gallery, New Paintings by L.S. Lowry, October 1961, no. 34.
Sunderland, Art Gallery, Arts Council of Great Britain, L.S. Lowry R.A. Retrospective Exhibition, August - September 1966, no. 88: 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.
Cardiff, National Gallery of Wales, on loan.
London, Royal Academy, L.S. Lowry, September - November 1976, no. 255.
Modern British & Irish Art
30 x 40 in. (76.2 x 101.6 cm.)
Exhibition catalogue, L.S. Lowry, Sunderland, Art Gallery, Arts Council of Great Britain, 1966, pp. 17, 33, no. 88, pl. 23.
D. McLean, L.S. Lowry, London, 1978, p. 20, illustrated.
T. Rosenthal, L.S. Lowry the Art and the Artist, Norwich, 2010, p. 86-87, illustrated.
Mrs Richard Beecham.
with Roy Miles Fine Paintings, London, where purchased by the present owner in April 1983.