Sunday, 7 July 2013

1930 - The Organ Grinder

The Organ Grinder 1930
37.2 x 27 cm
Sold [May 2013] for £151,250 including premium
Signed and Dated 'L S Lowry 1930' (lower left)

Acquired from the artist by the father of the present owner circa 1946
Please note this drawing was accompanied by four letters written by L.S. Lowry.

The Organ Grinder must surely rate as one of Lowry's most accomplished pre-war pencil drawings. Executed in 1930, it was the genesis for his applauded 1934 oil painting, An Organ Grinder, now in the prized collection of Manchester City Art Gallery (see Fig.1). When the two works are compared it becomes clear just how faithful the oil has remained to the work on paper. The only subtle differences are the positioning of a few of the figures and the buildings at the end of the receding street. The focal point of the picture remains constant and in the distance: the organ grinder. 

Appearing in the nineteenth century and remaining popular in England into the early twentieth century the organ grinder was almost always male and has been described as usually a casual labourer or vagabond. Some, owned their own barrel organs with which they travelled the urban landscape and played the repetitious tune of the machine in the hope a few spare coins would be tossed in their direction. The larger contraptions, as in Lowry's painting and drawing, were so large they were required to be mounted on a cart with wheels and pulled from street to street. 

In an article written the year before The Organ Grinder was drawn, the esteemed author George Orwell wrote an enlightening account of this poor mans' trade:

"To ask outright for money is a crime, yet it is perfectly legal to annoy one's fellow citizens by pretending to entertain them. Their dreadful music is the result of a purely mechanical gesture, and is only intended to keep them on the right side of the law. There are in London around a dozen firms specializing in the manufacture of piano organs, which they hire out for 15 shillings a week. The poor devil drags his instrument around from ten in the morning till eight or nine at night - the public only tolerates them grudgingly – and this is only possible in working class districts, for in the richer districts the police will not allow begging at all, even when it is disguised. As a result, the beggars of London live mainly on the poor.' (George Orwell, A Kind of Compulsion, 1903-36, p.134).

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