Tate Britain: If you patronise Lowry, you patronise generations of urban Britons

The affection for Lowry has less to do with style, and much more to do with the familiarity of his subject matter to very many Britons of a certain age

Share

The press release that  heralded the country’s first major Lowry exhibition at Tate Britain was a classic.

It positively dripped with (oh so restrained) condescension. The word “reassess” occurred more than necessary and the artist himself was not only defined by his day job (rent-collector), but described as “much-loved” – ie popular, downmarket, not one for the cognoscenti. It says a great deal, I think, that the exhibition, which opened a couple of weeks ago to some equally sniffy reviews (including mention of clumsy brushstrokes that you can now see close-up) is curated by two American art historians. A prophet not without honour, save in his own country. 

Well, having gone to the exhibition earlier this week, I can confirm the experts’ worst fears. Even on a Monday there were a great many people, including quite a few I would guess who had come up to London specially. I can also confirm that they were loving it. “If he were around now, he’d be painting Canary Wharf,” someone commented. A striking number delighted in the remembered cityscapes of their childhood. Someone wrote in the visitors’ book that he’d gone to Daisy Nook fair as a boy.

By including works by artists who might have influenced Lowry, including his teacher, the curators have tried to add an instructive spin. But it was the Lowrys people had come to see, and there was a feast of them. Some, it must be said, cruder in their brushwork than others, but many delicate and intense. I happen to like primitive and naïve painting, but I grant it’s not for all. 

Watching the gallery-goers, it seemed to me, though, that the affection for Lowry has less to do with style – except in so far as it is so accessible – and much more to do with the familiarity of his subject matter to very many Britons of a certain age. We recognise the Englishness of Constable and Turner, while consigning them to a romantic past. Lowry, too, is now a painter of the past, but a real past that speaks of what, deep down, we know.

Often, Britons seem shy about signing visitors’ books. Not here. I flicked through pages crammed with ecstatic comments. Someone said the exhibition was so much more satisfactory than that in the actual Lowry gallery in Salford. Someone said it was a pity “we had to wait so long” for the first national Lowry exhibition. And someone else seemed to sum up it all up, writing “lest we forget”. 

Bye, David, don’t forget Iraq

It’s uncharitable to say this, I know, just as David Miliband leaves the country to start a new life in New York, but I can’t help finding him deeply irritating. Rarely more so than in his other valedictory appearance – not his TV love-in with Andrew Marr, but the lecture he gave as this year’s Ditchley Foundation speaker.

This was, for the most part, a disquisition on military intervention, and he managed at once to assess the “overall reckoning” for the Afghanistan and Iraq interventions as “strongly negative” and to present himself as a mere bystander, whose only role was “seeking to bring those conflicts to a close”. I suppose you could say that.

But was the pre-Foreign Secretary Miliband not a close adviser to Tony Blair at the heart of New Labour? Did he not troop into the lobby in support of the Iraq invasion? And do those two facts not require acknowledgement and just maybe some humility?

m.dejevsky@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in August  

Ferguson: The sad truth is that Michael Brown was killed because he was a black man

Bonnie Greer
A protestor poses for a  

Ferguson verdict: This isn't a 'tragedy'. This is part of a long-running genocide of black men in America

Otamere Guobadia
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital