According to LS Lowry, there was only one artist whose work he wanted to “look at last thing at night and first thing each morning” – the Victorian Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood co-founder, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Indeed, the 20th century Salfordian owned several of Rossetti’s paintings and drawings including ‘The Bower Meadow’ (1850-72) and ‘Portrait of Alexa Wilding’ (1866) – a chalk on paper sketch which hung on his bedroom wall until his death in 1976.
Lowry’s passion for the Pre-Raphaelites might not initially appear like an obvious fit. The reclusive rent-collector’s stark industrial landscapes and un-glorified scenes of urban life strike quite a contrast with the pronounced sensuality, colour and other-worldly aesthetic of Rossetti, John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, Ford Maddox Brown and co. Yet he made frequent trips to Salford Museum and Art Gallery and Manchester Art Gallery to visit their works on display, was a keen collector, and even became first president of the Rossetti Society which he helped setup in 1966.
This interest perhaps reveals another side to Lowry’s private, somewhat-surly character. He once commented of Rossetti: “I’m fascinated by the paintings of his ladies. Nothing else,” adding “They are not real women, they are dreams.” And while Lowry’s iconic ‘matchstick men’ may be defined by a distinctly northern, ‘down-to-earth’ sensibility, more than a hint of Rossetti’s dark, brooding influence can be found lingering in his female portraits, particularly of Ann – a woman Lowry painted numerous times.
Opening at The Lowry next month, Lowry & The Pre-Raphaelites marks a major new exhibition dedicated to exploring and celebrating the seemingly unlikely connection between the bowler-hatted painter and the 19th century group of rebels who rejected Raphael’s influence over Western art. Bringing together more than 40 works by Rossetti, Brown, Burne-Jones and others the show offers a rare opportunity to delve into the world of Lowry’s artistic imagination and experience some of the UK’s most popular artists in a new light.