Sunday, 7 July 2013

1942 - Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights (The Witherns, near Haworth) 1942
Oil on Panel
43 x 51 cm
Signed and Dated 'L.S. LOWRY 1942' (lower left)

with The Lefevre Gallery, London
Professor H.B. Maitland
Mrs. M.C. Dickie, his daughter
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 11 June 1976, lot 108a (£950 to Waring)
with Crane Kalman Gallery, London
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 4 November 1983, lot 180
Private Collection, U.K.

Sheffield, Graves Art Gallery, The Works of L.S. Lowry, 15 September - 14 October 1962, (where lent by Professor H.B. Maitland as 'The Withens, near Haworth')
Edinburgh, Scottish Arts Council, Lowry, 1977, (where lent by Crane Kalman Gallery as 'The Witherns, near Hawarth')
Accrington, Haworth Art Gallery, Paintings and drawings by L.S. Lowry R.A., 4 - 30 September 1979,

Interestingly, Professor H.B. Maitland lent 8 further works by L.S. Lowry to the Sheffield exhibition in 1962.

‘For Lowry, nature offers no sanctuary, nowhere to shelter unless it be a solitary farmhouse locked into the bleak empty landscape.’ (Michael Howard, Lowry: A Visionary Artist, Lowry Press, 2000, p.220)

As the title suggests, the landscape that provided the inspiration for the present work was a place called the Witherns, near Haworth, West Yorkshire. This location has become intimately tied with the Brontë sisters who were born and brought up in the village of Haworth in the mid-nineteenth century. It is thought that the derelict farmhouse at Top Witherns was the inspiration for Emily Brontë’sWuthering Heights.

In Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography of Charlotte Brontë, she expressively describes the isolated situation of Haworth village in the first chapter - “Right before the traveller on this road rises Haworth village; he can see it for two miles before he arrives, for it is situated on the side of a pretty steep hill, with a background of dun and purple moors, rising and sweeping away yet higher than the church, which is built at the very summit of the long narrow street. All round the horizon there is this same line of sinuous wave-like hills; the scoops into which they fall only revealing other hills beyond, of similar colour and shape, crowned with wild, bleak moors--grand, from the ideas of solitude and loneliness which they suggest, or oppressive from the feeling which they give of being pent-up by some monotonous and illimitable barrier, according to the mood of mind in which the spectator may be.

For a short distance the road appears to turn away from Haworth, as it winds round the base of the shoulder of a hill; but then it crosses a bridge over the "beck," and the ascent through the village begins.”

The moors offered to Lowry a subject that was the complete antithesis to the hustle and bustle of life at his home in Pendlebury, Manchester. As Michael Howard has written,‘The slow rhythms of geological time contrast sharply with the ephemeral shapes of the modern city’ (Op.Cit., p.217). Although the cityscapes produced by Lowry are often invested with a feeling of isolation and exclusion, these feelings are perhaps more overtly felt or enhanced by the monumental landscapes devoid of human activity that he was able to produce on is trips to the moors. These rural paintings are conceived in quite a different mode to their urban counterparts and it is as if all possible human element is suppressed to the bear minimum in order to create a landscape that is both meditative and somewhat oppressive in its overwhelming bleakness. “In all England, I do not believe that I could have fixed on a situation so completely removed from the stir of society”. (Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights, Chapter 1.) Lowry is often characterised as a bit of a loner and outsider, and it is perhaps through his rural landscapes such as the present lot that the viewer is most able to sense his absolute isolation from the socialised world. Indeed,“Wuthering Heights” (The Witherns, near Haworth) may indeed be understood as a symbolic expression of his innermost feelings at the time. The death of his mother in 1939 had had a devastating effect on Lowry and in 1948 his house in Pendlebury where he had lived with his mother was in such a state that it was repossessed by his landlord, forcing him to move to Mottram, a village to the east of Manchester, on the edge of the Pennines.

‘It seems clear that his most effective mature landscapes are those that, even though empty of any sign of human activity, are nevertheless invested with human presence and meaning. They exude a sense of heaviness, an oppressive, catatonic stillness that comes close the sublime landscapes of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Romantic painters. The geological irregularities of the vista are rounded into regularised, suggestive contours and the natural landscape is reorganised into a series of simple rhythmic patterns, reductive in both colour and line. There is no attempt to catalogue the shifting effects of the weather or light, and rarely do we see tractors or cars, or any other signs of the incidental activity that are the mark of a working landscape. These are in effect ‘timeless’ landscapes, imbued with a cold light that appears to emanate from the canvas itself.’ (Michael Howard, Op.Cit., p. 213)

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