Lot Essay Coming from the Match, conceived in 1959 at the pinnacle of Lowry’s career, is the only painting of a rugby match the artist ever created. As Lowry himself disclosed to the initial buyer of this painting, the subject is of a match at the Rochdale Hornets rugby stadium. The work exemplifies Lowry’s distinctly unique and identifiable style. Familiar motifs of chimneys, electrical wires, and red-bricked factories engross the nondescript and monochrome rugby stadium, identifiable only by the two goal posts peering out from behind the dividing walls. Throngs of utilitarian crowds funnel out of the stadium in varyingdirections, dominating the foreground of the scene. The elementalrange of colours typical of Lowry’s oeuvre –black, blue, vermillion red, and yellow ochre – speckle the otherwise omnipresent white surroundings indicativeof the cold, smoke-choked air.
The rugby match remains an incidental element of the composition, and Lowry instead brings attention to the mass of crowds retreating from the stadium. These figures, huddled forward as if propelled by the momentum of their movements, and sometimes even disappearing at the edge of the painting as if escaping out of the picture frame, create a beautifully choreographed depiction of human interaction. Lowry’s characters epitomise his voyeuristic sensibility and innate ability to capture a sense of time and place. Although painted with an understated simplicity, each character uniquely comes to life through Lowry’s sympathetic and cunning attention to detail. As underscored by Lowry’s emphasis on the community attending the match, rather than the sport itself, the artist saw spectator sports as an integral part of Northern English life. The study of people, their daily activities and habits, and their interaction in a changing industrial city, remains at the very core of this work.
This painting, although depicting an activity of leisure, bears striking resemblance to Lowry’s illustrations of people purposefully rushing to work. In fact, if it weren’t for the title, and the small group of figures in the foreground who appear to wear rugby shirts, the painting could easily be mistaken as one of Lowry’s quintessential working scenes. The parallels unifying Lowry’s work and leisure subject matters suggest that, even at times of leisure, civilians are still determinedby the dehumanising effects and pressures of the industrial process.As art historian Michael Howard so poignantly puts, “even outside their working hours, Lowry seems to say […] they cannot escape from the industrial system which during working hours controls their bodies and restricts their freedom of mind” (Lowry: A Visionary Artist, Salford, 2000, p. 136).
Lowry was truly a flâneur of modern England; the first artist not only to document England’s industrial legacy, but to also turn it into a subject of artistic veneration. Lowry’s paintings are emblematic of his time, and provide a screen through which future generations can conjure vivid images of 20th Century modern life. Simply put, “the paintings of L.S. Lowry are probably, almost certainly, the most familiar, the most loved, and most appreciated of all twentieth century British art” (M. Vaizey, L.S. Lowry, London, 1995, p. 84). In Coming from the Match, Lowry’s decades of detailed observation of the working man come to life in this rare depiction of a rugby match.
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