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A love triangle: how Lowry and Rossetti fell for the same girls

Ciar Byrne,Yvonne Gavan
Monday 31 May 2004 00:00 BST

He was known for simple industrial landscapes featuring uncomplicated factory workers.

He was known for simple industrial landscapes featuring uncomplicated factory workers.

Yet L S Lowry was mesmerised by the brooding romanticism of Pre-Raphaelite art and shared its artists' dark fascination for young women with Grecian looks.

Next week Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Pandora , once owned by Lowry and believed to be highly influential in his work, will go under the auctioneer's hammer for an estimated £1.2m. The sale reopens the debate about the extent to which Lowry borrowed from Rossetti in a series of lesser-known portraits of a young dark woman called Ann.

Rossetti's pastel study Pandora was sold four years ago to the Australian businessman John Schaeffer for £2.6m and is now back on the market. "It's one of the finest works on paper that has ever been offered at auction," said a spokeswoman for Christie's.

The drawing's high value has been attributed to its colourful catalogue of owners - particularly in its passing from Lowry to his "adopted god-daughter" Carol-Ann Lowry, whom he befriended when she wrote to him at the age of 13, excited at sharing his name, and asking for his advice on how to become an artist.

In 1966, Lowry set up the Pre-Raphaelite Society with his friend Tilly Marshall, the owner of the Stone Gallery in Newcastle. Entry required ownership of a Pre-Raphaelite work, so in 1968 Lowry bought Pandora for Carol-Ann, so that she could join the society. He later left her his entire fortune of around £300,000.

"Lowry was mesmerised by Rossetti's work and would have had a lot of opportunity to study it, because of the number of Rossettis in Manchester Art Gallery," said Lindsay Brooks, the senior curator at the Lowry Gallery in Salford.

"He was drawn to the very linear style of Rossetti and the way that Rossetti brings figures very close to the picture frame. Lowry had a similar obsession with a particular kind of face - very heavily featured, androgynous women, with strongly delineated eyebrows and very full lips. It's very typical of a series of heads of a woman called Ann that Lowry painted in the 1950s."

Lowry never married and blamed a lack of female relationships on the claustrophobic bond he had with his mother. Aside from his portrait series - believed to be based on Carol-Ann - this female interest prevails in a cache of paintings discovered after his death in 1976. Their fetishistic images of women with dark, distinctive features shocked those who knew his work, particularly Carol-Ann, who declared: "They are me".

One of two studies that Rossetti made in 1869 for an oil painting, Pandora was modelled on Jane Morris, the wife of his fellow artist and friend William Morris. She is believed to have been the inspiration for other works including Proserpine and Astarte Syriaca .

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