Lowry backers battle to boost his standing in the art world

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The Independent Online

At the inaugural LS Lowry Lecture, established by Salford's Lowry Centre to mark Thursday's anniversary, the outspoken writer and curator Julian Spalding will join those fighting the artist's corner. "The British Council should get off its metropolitan high horse and tour Lowry round the globe so the world can see what it's missing," Spalding said.

The British Council has so far declined to comment, but Spalding is among those who believe that if Lowry's critics looked beyond his northern industrial scenes they would find extraordinary and serene seascapes and masterful draughtsmanship as well as anatomic perfection in the stance and movement of his matchstick figures.

Lowry's detractors include the Evening Standard's Brian Sewell whohas written of "a terrible sameness" in his work. "Once you have seen one townscape, one portrait, one seascape, you've seen the lot," he said.

Such lack of appreciation would probably not have surprised Lawrence Stephen Lowry, who feared that he would be dismissed by the art establishment as a "Sunday painter" because he juggled his work with the job of rent collector. Lowry was only offered an Arts Council retrospective between 1966 and 1967, at the age of 70. He died of pneumonia on 23 February 1976.

Lindsay Brooks, senior curator at The Lowry Centre, said that negativity about Lowry was largely the result of a prevailing view in the British art establishment that "if somebody is popular or accessible, they cannot be very good".

His refusal to leave the north for London and cultivate a circle of artists had led many to shun him, she said. "The art critics and historians have been unable to fit him into a school of art. [They] have never been able to handle his popularity."

The Lowry Centre, built with £64m of lottery cash six years ago, has done much for the painter's reputation by deliberately seeking to reassert Lowry's value in the 21st century, by taking his work as a starting point for broader artistic themes.

As part of its attempts to reorientate critics' views, The Lowry has also commissioned the Rambert Dance Company to create a work embodying Lowry's art and world view.

The show will premiere a week on Wednesday.