When I reached Stockport on the Mersey walk the other day, I took a stroll around the town and ended up in the Art Gallery on Wellington Road where a new exhibition had just opened. Street Scene: Artworks from Stockport’s Art Collection features the work of well-known artists with local connections such as L.S. Lowry, Alan Lowndes and Harry Rutherford alongside the lesser known painters. The common theme in all the works on display is that they depict life in the streets of Stockport – street parties, demonstrations, carnivals and parades.
The centrepiece of the exhibition is A Street in Stockport – Crowther Street (above), painted by Lowry in 1930 and bought by the gallery in 1935 for 35 guineas. It’s been a favourite of mine since I first saw it displayed at the Lowry Centre in Salford a few years ago. It might just be the depiction of a scene by a well-known artist nearest to the place where I grew up – Poynton, ten miles to the south.
What the gallery didn’t realise until they examined the painting was that they were getting two Lowrys for the price of one. Also on show is a reproduction of an unfinished painting that was discovered on the reverse of the canvas. A Crowd Scene must have been started by Lowry before his painting of Crowther Street. An intimate crowd scene, it is in quite an advanced stage, but there is no evidence as to why it was abandoned. The two faces of the painting were conserved by the North West Museums and Galleries Service in 1992. There are lighter oblong patches visible on the reverse image where labels from various exhibitions have been removed.
Afterwards, I went to see Crowther Street, which survives about half a mile away, near the centre of town. I took the photo above which reveals the artistic licence taken by Lowry in sharpening the angle of the curve of the street, and depicting the terraced houses sporting white and red washes rather than the plain brick. What is missing from the photo are the people – today Crowther Street is a quiet, half-forgotten lane lacking the bustle and animation of Lowry’s picture. There is a plane, though: every three of four minutes one follows the flight path over the town centre on the approach to Manchester airport.
There was one other Lowry in the exhibition – a pencil drawing made in 1929 of Meal House Brow. It shows the view from Stockport Market Place looking down towards Underbank. This is the view of Meal House Brow today. Lowry’s drawing is reminiscent of the much later one above – Old Steps, Stockport – made in 1969.
Two photos – the above and the one below – show Lowry in Stockport in 1962. Prominent in both photos is the famous railway viaduct that Lowry incorporated into many of his paintings which, although the composition might be imaginary, often incorporated elements of real places into the view.
Stockport Viaduct seems to have haunted the artist. In The Viaduct (below), for example, it appears as the backdrop to a fairly desolate urban landscape containing only two rows of terraced cottages and a large pub, towards which three men are resolutely making their way. The Viaduct was once owned by Sir Alec Guinness.
In Industrial Landscape (below), painted in 1955, the viaduct can be seen in the middle left of the picture. But on the whole the image presents a generalised impression of an urban environment, dominated by smoking chimneys, factories, roads, bridges and industrial wasteland. These features seem to overwhelm the human presence in the scene, limited to tiny figures in the foreground going about their business in a terraced street and on wasteland.
The title of Stockport Viaduct (1958, below) might suggest a realistic depiction, but again the scene is an imaginary composite.
Again, in the 1969 drawing below, The Viaduct Stockport, Lowry has neither realistically portrayed the details of the scene, nor accurately rendered the viaduct’s proportions.
Alan Lowndes, who has two paintings in this exhibition – Stockport Street Scene and Love Lane Corner, both seen below – was a local artist who painted many scenes in and around Stockport, including the view of Stockport Viaduct in 1973, also below. Born in 1921 in Heaton Norris a, suburb of Stockport, Lowndes was the son of a railway clerk. He left school at 14, and was apprenticed to a decorator. After serving in the Second World War, he studied painting at night school, but was largely self-taught. He began to achieve success with his scenes of northern life in the late 1950s and early 1960s, just at the time when interest in northern culture was at its height.
Harry Rutherford, whose September, Mottram (below) is on show in the exhibition was born in the Stockport suburb of Denton in 1903, the youngest of four sons of a hat trimmer. The manufacture of hats was one of Stockport’s main industries (gone now, but the town still has a Hat Museum), based in the town centre and in nearby Hyde, and it was to Hyde that the family moved in 1905. Today there is Blue Plaques to Harry Rutherford at 17 Nelson Street where he lived. While he was still at school Harry attended Saturday morning classes at the Hyde School of Art. He left school at fourteen but continued to develop his skills through evening classes at the Manchester School of Art, where he met L.S. Lowry who was attending the same classes.
In 1925 Walter Sickert came to Manchester to open an art school at the invitation of a local art dealer. The class had places for thirty pupils, and Harry was both the first and youngest to enrol. Rutherford and Sickert became firm friends and Sickert’s influence on Rutherford’s technique was very strong. Harry’s painting Saturday Afternoon, now called Northern Saturday (below), depicting Hyde town centre, is arguably his most famous. It was acquired by Hyde Corporation in 1948. Tameside Council has a web page with information about Rutherford here. More paintings by Harry Rutherford can be seen on the BBC Your Paintings website here.
- Stockport: In Mr Lowry’s Footsteps: a great set of paintings and location photos on Flickr