The School Yard 1930
27.5 by 38 cm
Signed and Dated 1930
Acquired by the previous owner in 1954
If any were to doubt Lowry’s capacity as a draughtsman, they could do no better than study the group of drawings he produced in the 1929-30 period. Do that, and one would be very hard pressed to deny him a very particular mastery of the pencil.
Drawing was always a key element to his working method. It was the basis of his technique, hard-won through many hours of study in the life room of the Salford Art School, models clad and semi-clad, some in costume, teasing out his understanding of the human figure. It gave him an instant form of record for the scenes he saw in the streets, jotted onto the backs of envelopes or the sheets of a pocket note-book. It allowed him the expansive exploration of those same ideas, building a world in graphite, a medium that echoed the gritty muck of its subjects.
The earliest drawings away from the life-room were perhaps a little stilted, stiff little groups of figures, scored into the paper with an even hard point. Gradually, as the 1920s progressed, he learned the tricks of the medium. As learning a language is so much more than just the words and grammar, Lowry developed the nuances of the pencil, learnt to twist it to his own ends, use the thick blunt line from a soft lead to give substance and structure to a factory building, rub a feather-stroke away with the edge of a thumb to make it the wisp of the first coal smoke of the morning drifting from the chimneys of a terrace. Most importantly, he learnt the most important trick of the great draughtsman, to bring colour from black and white, to make the impression of the subject so intense and convincing that our own brain does the rest. Suddenly we understand the shade and texture of the worn, weathered paint on a tenement door, the grubby grey of paving flags. How? Because Lowry makes the experience feel real. At his best he goes beyond this, letting us even hear and smell the scene. The chatter of shawled women queuing outside a shop, the shouts of children bouncing off brick alleys, the acrid smell of the factories and the chimneys, the dank stink of canal or river.
In March of 1930, Lowry held a very short exhibition. For two days only, ‘A Collection of 25 Pencil Drawings of Ancoats made by Mr L.S.Lowry’ was shown at the Round House, Every Street, Manchester. The drawings shown include some of Lowry’s finest, subtle studies that evoke the streets, factories and back alleys of this industrial neighbourhood. They tread the fine line between literal representation and nostalgic recollection. They recognise the flaws, the dirt, the poverty, but they neither preach nor sentimentalise. They simply feel real; real places, real lives, real spaces. By 1930, when he produced the present work, Lowry had brought his drawing style to a height of achievement that is truly remarkable.