Exhibition review: Paul Nash

angel-and-devilI was very pleased to be able to catch the Paul Nash exhibition at Tate Britain last week (it closes March 5th), and I took 11 pages of notes, so this post will be an attempt to condense my ideas into some form of review! Nash (1889-1946) is not, I think, as appreciated as he should be (in my circles, anyway!) but his deep and sustained involvement in a movements, events and exhibitions throughout the early twentieth century, particularly in his surrealist later work, is demonstrated beautifully in this large exhibition.

The opening room is entitled ‘Dreaming Trees’, and indeed trees feature throughout much of his early and mid-career work, in different forms. I hadn’t been aware of the strong influence of the Pre-Raphaelites and Blake on Nash’s work, but some early examples of his illustrations clearly three-treesindicate this, such as ‘The Combat’ and ‘Our Lady of Inspiration’. Nash also on occasion wrote his own poetry to accompany his work. His engagement with landscape, and trees in particular, is accompanied by his unusual approach; he ‘tried to paint trees as though they were human beings’, looking for the character and individuality of plant forms, as a part of his attempts to explore the locus genii which preoccupies his work throughout his life. Moving beyond conventional landscapes, he wrote that

my love of the monstrous and the magical led me beyond the confines of natural appearances into surreal worlds…

I particularly liked the almost-human trees in ‘The Three Trees’, which appear in many of his paintings and were inspired by the trees near his family house. Their personality appears, and in the range of paintings of trees including these it is possible to see how he became more drawn to the drama and mysticism of the natural world: the exhibition label says that he

lived the drama of the nocturnal skies – falling stars, moonrise, storms and summer lightning.

new-world

The works on display indicate the extent to which Nash links the natural world with creativity, but other worlds intrude; after his war experiences, his paintings often still include trees, but they are different, an attempt to drag order from chaos, forms from formlessness. His movement towards surrealism is marked, at the start, by a formal, structured beauty which tries to make sense of a changing world, but at the edges there is an untamed wildness, and an acknowledgement that the relationship between humanity and nature is an unequal one, where the balance varies. The section ‘We Are Making a New World’, named after one of his most famous war paintings, exemplifies this: he described himself as ‘no longer an artist’ but ‘a messenger’, using simplified forms, such as stunted trees and devastated landscapes, to demonstrate the destructiveness of war (here, again, the trees seem to stand in for people). Yet in several of the paintings, such as ‘Spring in the Trenches’, nature reassert itself after the damage that war has inflicted: nature is always stronger, in the end, though the soldiers in the trenches are blind to its beauty.

spring-in-the-trenches

The landscapes become more and more angular and geometric; they indicate a world which continues to change, where humanity seems increasingly reckless in its treatment of the environment. In a series of paintings with red clouds it is difficult to tell if nature is in sympathy, or angry with a world bent on destruction. In ‘The Menin Road’ the landscape has become entirely subject to form, with even the sky appearing unnatural, and the vicious vertical lines of the blasted trees standing in for the ruined lives of soldiers.

Later sections demonstrate Nash’s attachment to place, as well as his interest in ancient monolithshistorical sites such as Whiteleaf Cross. This might be read as an escape from the troubling present, but it is human interventions in and reshaping of landscape that seems to draw him here. Increasingly his paintings veer towards abstraction, with forms placed in the landscape – which he continued to do for the rest of his life – and with works such as ‘Winter Sea’ constructing a geometric abstraction from nature. His paintings which seem to show nature framed, shaped and controlled by humanity, such as ‘Month of March’, often show a branch out of place, or some small sign that nature is still in charge.

In the 1930s his work undergoes further shifts, especially in his interest in still lifes and indoor paintings which demonstrate his increasing use of form and shape to structure his works. These invite questions; ‘St Pancras’, for example, with its slightly disorientating perspective, pits verticals against horizontals, curves against straight lines, so that the viewer’s eye is confused once it moves beyond the vase in the foreground, and we watch as if looking through the window ourselves. His exploration of shape in the world is extrapolated further in ‘Dead Spring’ and ‘Lares’, in which the latter abstracts the shapes of the former. Other still-life/abstract works draw in found objects, such as glove stretchers repurposed as sculptural trees; there are several tree-related works which both echo his earlier paintings and indicate how far his work has moved on, particularly under the influence of surrealism.

Nash writes of landscapes:

They are unseen merely because they are not perceived.

Exploring his own vision of landscape allows him to see differently, and even manmade objects seem to form landscapes in his works. ‘Equivalents for the Megaliths’ is one of his most famous paintings, and indicates his ability to combine landscape and form in unexpected juxtapositions; the stylised landscape of the background is populated by forms which stand in for the megaliths so that what is man made becomes a very different part of the view. There are also photographs; ‘Monster Field’ is an image of elms struck by lightning which take in both the appearance and the personality of monsters.

monster-field

With the advent of WWII, Nash painted crashed German bombers, and in a number of paintings indicates the threat which comes from the sky during war, sometimes with the red clouds which appeared in his previous war paintings. Towards the end of his life, his work is lighter in colour, exploring cycles of change, life and death, which is apparent both in his works with sunflowers, and also in his essay ‘Aerial Flowers’. Again he turns to the natural world to understand the incomprehensible, exploring varied landscapes to create his unique vision. There is an appealing circularity in this return to the land.

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Women Reading

The Artist's Wife 1933 Henry Lamb 1883-1960 Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1934 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N04749I have a particular fondness for paintings of women reading. I suppose this is because I spend so much time reading – and I like images that have a woman, alone, comfortable, engrossed in a book, ignoring whatever is going on around her (including the artist painting her). I love this 1933 painting by Henry Lamb (left), The Artist’s Wife, for this reason. I’ve just discovered the Tate’s Album facility, in which you can create your own digital exhibition drawing on their collection, so I decided to do one of pictures of women reading. There are quite a few, it turns out (although, of course, many from other collections, too). You can look at my album here. The range of images is fascinating – because, after all, women reading is a historically complex, socially-inflected topic. For centuries women were only encouraged to read the Bible, and, presumably, recipe books – that is, when they were literate enough to read anything, and many of the images I’ve chosen show a woman simply holding, or even near, a book, which at least indicates her ability to read. After all, why teach women to read when they could just memorise a few chunks of improving verses or household advice manuals? Although Jane Austen wrote in Pride and Prejudice that

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent liCandlemas Day circa 1901 Marianne Stokes 1855-1927 Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1977 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T02108brary.”

nonetheless there remained a strong suspicion that women, with their tendency to hysteria, emotional outbursts and rather weak minds, were much better off not reading novels, which might drive them over the edge. The psychological consequences of reading fiction were potentially severe, leading women to expect romance and excitement, alongside an increased tendency to swoon at the sight of a man. In fact, well into the nineteenth century there was a view that reading as part of learning could, if taken to extremes, be very bad for a woman’s mental and physical health; it would take all the blood from her womb (thus rendering her infertile) and move it to her head (thus making her insane). It would – apparently – also give her cold feet. I read a lot, and I do always have cold feet, but things seem otherwise well.

The moral panic about women’s reading – whether they should, and if so what they should – provides the context to these images of women reading. Many of them, unsurprisingly, show a woman reading in a devotional context. These are often the most sombre, beautiful images, showing a religious devotion which is pictured as sacred as well as pictureMary Wollstonecraft (Mrs William Godwin) circa 1790-1 John Opie 1761-1807 Purchased 1884 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N01167sque. One of my favourites of these is Marianne Stokes, Candlemas Day (1901), which shows a very pious-looking girl, totally focused, reading by candlelight. Appropriately, another name for Candlemas is the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, and this young lady looks very virginal indeed.

Another good reason for a woman to be reading, historically, was to share a (morally improving, no doubt) story with her children. That’s another good reason to educate women; so they can teach their offspring. Some of these are ghastly cloying images, such as Arthur Boyd Houghton’s Mother and Children Reading, but others, such as Harrington Mann’s The Fairytale, are less morally improving and more appealing. These domestic reasons for women reading are historically accurate, I suppose, but there are more interesting paintings, in my view: I was surprised by the number of eighteenth century women pictured with a book in their hand, or tucked under their arm.

Some of the women in the paintings are writers, and are thus depicted with a book to indicate their position as such. Robert Southey may have written to Charlotte Bronte that:

“Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life: & it ought not to be. The more she Lady on a Sofa c.1910 Harold Gilman 1876-1919 Purchased 1948 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05831is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure she will have for it, even as an accomplishment & a recreation. To those duties you have not yet been called,  & when you are you will be less eager for celebrity”

but  literature – both writing and reading it – has, luckily, often been the business of a woman’s life, and many of the paintings reflect that. I love the famous Opie picture of Mary Wollstonecraft, looking up from her book severely but with just a tiny twinkle in her eye.

The late nineteenThe Reading Girl 1886-7 Théodore Roussel 1847-1926 Presented by Mrs Walter Herriot and Miss R. Herriot in memory of the artist 1927 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N04361th and early twentieth centuries clearly took it for granted that women might read as a pastime – but, interestingly, they increasingly abandoned their books in aesthetic langour. There are a lot of books put aside in this period, such as Harold Gilman’s Lady on a Sofa (1910) and Matisse’s The Inattentive Reader (1919). The reading woman, then, becomes a much more appealing subject for male painters, as an aesthetic object to be looked at – presumably because while she is reading, she’s not paying attention to who is watching. I’m particularly struck – not in a good way – by Theodore Roussel’s The Reading Girl (1886-7) – after all, we all read like that, don’t we? Who needs clothes to enjoy a book? Perhaps most appealing, then, is Gwen John’s sober depiction of A Lady Reading (1909-11), in which a young woman stands alone, so engrossed in her book she doesn’t even sit on the nearby chair. I understand that absorption, and the painting speaks much more to reading women than the male gaze.

A Lady Reading 1909-11 Gwen John 1876-1939 Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1917 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N03174

 

Exhibition Review: Fighting History at the Tate

imagesFighting History is a strange exhibition (and one which seems to have had many poor reviews). An exhibition on history painting – and its often counter-cultural attitudes – sounds like a brilliant idea for an exhibition, but for me it didn’t deliver. The only review I saw (heard, actually, on Radio 4, I think) before I went left me unclear as to what the exhibition was really about, and I’m afraid that visiting it didn’t really make that any clearer. The exhibition blurb says:

From Ancient Rome to recent political upheavals, Fighting History looks at how artists have transformed significant events into paintings and artworks that encourage us to reflect on our own place in history.

From the epic 18th century history paintings by John Singleton Copley and Benjamin West to 20th century and contemporary pieces by Richard Hamilton and Dexter Dalwood, the exhibition explores how artists have reacted to key historic events, and how they capture and interpret the past.

The first rraleighoom, Radical History Painting, argues that history painting is not in fact the conservative genre we think it is, but one which resists authority and undermines the conventional way of thinking. I didn’t think that history painting is a purely conventional genre, but even if I did I’m not sure that the three pieces in this room – Dexter Dalwood’s trite ‘The Poll Tax Riots’, Jeremy Deller’s word-map linking acid house to brass bands, and Robert Edge Pine’s ‘John de Warenne’ – would have convinced me. It seemed like a self-conscious start to the exhibition, shouting to the foolish and naive exhibition-goer: ‘Look! Art isn’t what you think it is, and we are here to show you that, in a very modern and non-chronological way’.

Now, although I am probably conventional and old-fashioned in this, I prefer chronological approaches to exhibitions, usually; however, I’m not so conventional that I’m not open to doing this differently, especially when trying to make a radical point, and grouping the art works by themes across 6 rooms might have been a learjolly good idea; however, the themes were odd, and oddly represented by the works in them. 250 Years of British History Painting, in the second room, worked on the vague premise that approaches to history change over time, and contained an odd assortment of paintings with varied relevance to history, including Alma-Tadema’s ‘The Silent Greeting’ (which tells us little about history, though something about the artist and his period), along with Millais’ ‘The Boyhood of Raleigh’ (again, not exactly history, except in the ‘lives of great men’ school), Henry Wallis’s ‘The Room in which Shakespeare was Born’ (is that really history?) and, more sensibly but lacking in context, Johann Zoffany’s ‘The Death of Captain Cook’. The third room, Ancient History, contains, randomly, Millais’ ‘Speak! Speak!’ and the ghastly ‘King Lear Weeping over the Dead Body of Cordelia’ by James Barry, alongside some genuinely ancient history from Poynter and Gavin Hamilton.

yeamesRoom 4 is British History, which I think attempts to identify a specifically British approach, and – like the other rooms – does contain some interesting pictures, but sadly by this stage my mind was overtaken with annoyance at failing to understand the grand narrative behind the exhibition. I’d like to think that the whole concept was terribly postmodern, undermining a conventional narrative to show the fallacy of historical narratives, but to be honest I don’t think that was the case. Still, I was interested by the (populist but well-done) ‘Amy Robsart’ by William Frederick Yeames, showing the (presumed) murder of the wife of Robert Dudley, freeing him up to marry Elizabeth I (which of course he didn’t), as well as John Minton’s modern, sympathetic ‘The Death of Nelson’, with its homosocial undertones. Yet I was still wondering, why ‘Fighting History’? Fighting against it? Undermining it with radicalism? (in which case, why Alma-Tadema? Why Barry, Millais, etc?) Or fighting it in the sense of depicting a fight of some kind? Who knows.

The fifth room was devoted to modern resistance to authority in art: Jeremy Deller’s ‘The Battle of Orgreave’ set the tone, re-enacting a clash between miners and police in 1984. I quite liked the idea of re-enacting something so modern, as a riff on the concept of Civil War re-enactors, etc: it might make one ask questions about what we do with history, especially modern history; how do we process it, react to it, depict it in art and incorporate it into our lives? Sadly, such turnerquestions are undermined by the haphazardness of the final room, The Deluge, which displayed several paintings of the Flood. This was entirely unexpected and seemed an odd conclusion; though there were some excellent paintings here, including the only Turner to feature in the exhibition, and Winifred Knights’ ‘The Deluge’, a modernist painting which looks at a flood – or the flood? – as the end of history. I suppose there is something of a narrative closure there, but the exhibition overall confused and annoyed me – and it’s rare I say that. Go and see the Hepworth exhibition downstairs instead!

Exhibition Review: Barbara Hepworth

infantBarbara Hepworth’s work fascinates me. I want to stroke it, and take it home with me and stare at it (though I’m not sure how well it would sit in my Victorian house!) It’s appropriate that, forty years after her death, the Tate’s summer blockbuster should be devoted to her, and it does a good job of demonstrating the development and breadth of her work, along with appropriate and interesting context. Though I have seen several Hepworth exhibitions before, I appreciated seeing her early work – carvings, mostly small enough to feel intimate and domestic, of figures both human and animal – in the context of other artists’ work of the period, including Henry Moore, of course. These works, in wood, onyx, stone, demonstrate how Hepworth worked with – rather than against – the grain of the materials she chose, creating beautiful, simple, tactile works which one wants to touch (in fact, this is clearly an issue, given the number of warnings about alarms being triggered if you touch them!) ‘Infant’ (left) somehow seems to carry within it the very essence of babyhood, a tiny figure holding up its arms as babies do, while the green onyx toad, reflecting the fashion for small animals in hard stone, somehow seems so toad-like despite its simplicity and apparent lack of detail.

The Studio section provides photographs as well as work during the period she shared a studio with Ben Nicholson, and mother and childmany of his works, too, which offer illumination on the period in which she was working as well as being interesting in their own right; his works on paper demonstrate an interesting echoing of form across their works. At a time when Hepworth wrote ‘we are building a new mythology’, she was creating her Mother and Child series, which abstracts the concept of a relationship between two bodies to demonstrate a kind of relationship in stone in which one appears to be cradling the other. These, too, are tactile, the flaws and grains in the material becoming part of the work of art.

The context of her working practices is extended in International Modernism, which not only indicates her position within a growing movement – and her importance in it – but also shows her her work developed, becoming more deeply abstract as she played with ideas of forms and how they relate to one another. There are single, monolithic forms, forms placed together and shadowing one another, and then increasingly complex echelonforms; looking at them makes form seem both simple and complex; we can peer through them, walk round them taking in unexpected angles and views, and interact with them; this is true of works such as ‘Forms in Echelon’ (left). It’s easy to look at pictures of them and think, What’s the point?’ but to see them is somehow to experience them – I can’t really explain it, except that there is a sort of magic about these works. The room entitled Equilibrium explores her growing interest in more complex forms and shapes, often using other materials such as she does in her famous stringed works. ‘Oval Sculpture’ may seem simple, from some angles, with its clear outline and shape, but the more one looks at it the more one is drawn in. By this stage in her career she was working in Cornwall, and much of her work expresses her sense of being enfolded by the landscape, becoming part of it, and this is very clearly represented here, though in a highly abstracted sense which draws on mathematical forms as much as a concept of nature and sense of place.oval

The closing rooms look at how her work has been displayed in architectural constructions, complementing and sitting alongside architecture rather than as an adjunct to them (something which can be seen to marvellous effect in the Hepworth Studio and Garden in St Ives). This sites her work in reconstructed structures, giving a sense of how she might have intended them to look. There is also a section on Guarea, a hard wood she used for some later works, explores the effects she achieved with this particular material. ‘Solid timber opened up to create an interior space’, she wrote, as though she could see the final sculpture in a piece of wood (which I don’t doubt she could). Guarea also gave her the chance to work with really large pieces of wood, creating wilmerenormous wooden sculptures which again move her work into a new phase.

The exhibition indicates – without forcing – a trajectory in her work which makes sense of her work, with a narrative which is clear and helpful without being prescriptive. As I wandered round, I found myself thinking about form – in sculpture, in poetry, in the world – nature, society, everything – and that, to me, is what makes any exhibition particularly rewarding to visit: it provokes wider thinking, a broader conception of the world; and I left feeling uplifted and enriched.

Ruin Lust

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Recently I read a review in the TLS of books on urban exploring, and I seem to keep coming across the idea that places which are decaying are significant and fascinating to us. I’ve also seen a lot of images on the web of deserted buildings which both preserve a moment in time and also represent the destruction of time – such as this deserted apartment. Sometimes a range of ideas come together and make us think about how they intersect, and this is what Tate Britain’s exhibition Ruin Lust does. Apparently the idea came from Rose Macaulay’s 1953 book The Pleasure of Ruins (sadly now out of print). The exhibition notes tell me that the term comes from the German ruinenlust, and though the concept of a lust for ruins is appealing, encapsulating decay and destruction along with a somewhat seedy, voyeuristic interest, a recent discussion with curator Brian Dillon on Radio 3 pointed out that in fact the word ‘lust’ translates as a rather more jolly, less perverted, enthusiasm.
So a lust for ruins suggests an interest in the melancholy aspect of faded grandeur, with an element of hubris in their building (‘Look on my works, ye mighty…’) and a pleasantly self-indulgent desire for the relics of the past. That’s just for starters, of course; our ruin-lust, extant since the eighteenth century at least, tells a lot about past and present civilisations, and the exhibition20140411-093005-pm.jpg illuminates these tendencies. It’s organised around ideas associated with ruin lust – On Land, Pleasure of Ruins, Cities in Dust etc – rather than displaying artworks simply chronologically, and this works well on the whole. We start with John Martin’s apocalyptic ‘Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum’, which is followed by Jane and Louise Wilson’s ‘Azeville’, a complete contrast in subject and style yet somehow complementary in form. As the exhibition progresses, the reasons behind ruination are explored as well as their aesthetics. From natural disasters to war, it’s not only the passing of time and human neglect which causes ruins.
There is, of course, something rather Gothic about ruins. A building that is ruined demonstrates the distant presence of humans, who have since abandoned it, and only echoes of the past remain, echoes which are far more resonant for the decay of the building. But we are attuned to these echoes, and relish them. Tintern Abbey, inspiration for Wordsworth and Turner, among others, is a perfect example of this: it is possibly more awe-inspiring, more appealing, when deserted and ruined than it was when whole. These pictures displayed here suggest a form of preservation of what is already ruined: a work of art offers us a snapshot of the building at a particular stage of decline, preserved forever in an image.
Ruin, of course, is intrinsic to everything: ruin is hidden in apparently whole things, waiting to appear. This is evident in Joseph Gandy’s watercolour of the Bank of England, commissioned by Sir John Soane in the year the building was completed. Soane requested that this new building be painted as Gandy imagined it’s future ruin, and, naturally, this ruin is beautiful. Not every image here is aesthetically pleasing, though all are thought-provoking; some, such as David Shrigley’s ‘Leisure Centre’, are all too familiar – ugly, modern building abandoned for prosaic, disappointing reasons such as the council running out of money. These, then, are our modern tragedies, less dramatic than the eruption of Vesuvius and less picturesque than the passing of centuries, but a tragedy for the community all the same. Yet 20140411-093152-pm.jpgwe idealise older ruins, which embody something of history, of the picturesque, and what we have learned to think of as beauty, and are less enthralled by more modern ruins (usually not thinking of them as ruins in the same way at all). Perhaps it is historical distance as well as a kind of voyeurism and sense of human drama which causes our interest in them, ideas which Rose Macaulay understood:

Ruin is always over-stated; it is part of the ruin-drama staged perpetually in the human imagination, half of whose desire is to build up, while the other half smashes and levels to the earth.

There is a very interesting discussion of Macaulay’s writing about ruins here.

 

Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life

lowry_web-banner_option3_0Probably one of the most popular exhibitions at the moment isLowry and the Painting of Modern Life” at Tate Britain. Lowry’s work has had an interesting reception, historically, I think: he is remarkably popular, appealing to a wide range of people, and this combined with his instantly recognisable style means that he can be looked down upon by art historians as perhaps not a serious artist, possibly a little bit twee. This exhibition does much to rectify that perception, I think, by contextualising Lowry’s work and emphasising its historical significance and Lowry’s own engagement with working-class life. The exhibition constructs Lowry as an artist of anti-sentiment, focussed on the reality of industrial life and urban people, and even a cursory glance at his paintings confirms this. Lowry saw art as a necessity for understanding and engaging with modern life, and there is no doubt that he relentlessly depicts the small tragedies and hardships of the industrial Northern working class in a way which offers pathos without sentiment. He does not seem to comment, but represents with empathy instead.lowry_flowers_in_a_window_0

This is not an uplifting exhibition, though it is an enjoyable and informative one. Even paintings which seem to offer no immediate comment are filled with pathos, such as “Flowers in a Window”, which seems to offer a metaphor for a bleak respectability in a barren urban landscape. And “Britain at Play” might sound like a happier image, yet no one is smiling. “Going to the Match” is filled with tiny, serious people bent over with the weight of the occasion. The style, the details and the images are appealing, but there is a deep seriousness behind the paintings. Looking around the rooms, there is a lot of black and white, subdued colours and a few startling, large buildings which loom out of some paintings. Interestingly, these are mostly churches, perhaps suggesting something about the long shadow of faith in working-class communities.

Lowry’s focus is firmly on the working people, then, their lives, environments and hardships. When grander houses are depicted, they are bleak and unwelcoming, as in the “House in Eccles Old Road”, where the building seems closed off and remote from its surroundings. The more one looks at Lowry’s work, the more every painting seems to be a commentary on class, and this exhibition emphasises this significant aspect of Lowry’s thought by quotations and books that relate to this aspect of his work, from Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier to Robert Roberts’ later booimagesCANXKQ6Ak The Classic Slum: Salford Life in the First Quarter of the Century. These narratives of hardship and poverty illuminate the tragedies and pathos of Lowry’s world, from the sad departure of a child in “The Fever Van” to “Pit Tragedy” and “An Accident”. Lowry himself said “I only deal with poverty. Always with gloom.” Yet it is notable how beautiful he makes this gloom seem: while art is necessary to illuminate life’s issues, it is also necessary to illuminate our lives with its beauty, and Lowry is not simply a moralist. What he shows us in his paintings may often be tragic, but it has a stark and rhythmic beauty which is compelling.

The exhibition is divided into sections, including “The Ideas of Modern Life”, “Street Life” etc. I was very interested in the “Ruined Landscapes” section, which, combined with the final “Industrial Landscapes”, offer a rather forward-thinking approach: Lowry as ecologist, concerned about the damage that heavy industry and overpopulation is causing to the planet. The paintings show stinking swamps, abandoned buildings and derelict machinery, a product of his earlier landscapes in which not one scene escapes a smoking factory chimney lurking somewhere in the background. The paintings that are difL-S-Lowry-Necropolisferent – with more colour, for example, such as the Welsh landscapes, or different types of figures such as in “The Cripples”, stand out from the others, but in fact I think I prefer his starker, gloomier works for their simple beauty. A painting I had not come across before was “Necropolis”, depicting the final home of the men and women who wander mournfully in and out of his paintings. There is a peace here which I don’t see in his other paintings, which is a comment on his skill at conjuring atmosphere. But like his other paintings, it is both grim and fascinating, beautiful yet awkwardly ugly. Looking at Lowry is like watching our own civilisation’s demise: you know it’s true, and you can’t stop looking.