The grime and smoke of Britain’s heavy industrial past is to be given an airing in a big exhibition of the work of L.S. Lowry at Tate Britain.
The artist, who lived and worked in Pendlebury, near Manchester, for more than 40 years, is celebrated for his stylised pictures of factories, belching chimneys and simply-drawn workers – the so-called “matchstick men and women” – hurrying through the terraced northern streets.
The exhibition of about 80 works unveiled on Tuesday is the first by a London public institution since Lowry’s death in 1976. It will bring together paintings from Tate’s collection as well as galleries in Leicester, Coventry and Birmingham.
T.J. Clark, an art historian who curated the exhibition with his fellow University of California academic Anne Wagner, said the Lancashire-born Lowry had “confronted the ordinary working life of an industrialising society”, influenced by the aims of the French impressionists.
Tate, which owns 23 Lowry works, including seven paintings, was attacked in 2011 by Sir Ian McKellen for refusing to show its collection more widely and regularly. The actor described it as “a shame verging on the iniquitous” that foreign visitors to the capital could not see the paintings and suggested an anti-northern bias against the artist.
Prof Clark said Lowry, who worked as a rent collector, remained an artist “who’s taken for granted and condescended to”. He quipped that his London art-world friends had given a look of “deadpan incomprehension and maybe disappointment” when he told them of his latest curating project.
“Lowry is a disputable quantity – he always was,” he said.
But Penelope Curtis, Tate Britain director, said the exhibition would “hopefully” act as a response to the gallery’s “somewhat vexed relationship with Lowry”.
Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life will run from June to October.