the lowry debate


So what’s all the fuss about now? Accusations persist that the Tate, by wilfully ignoring Lowry for years, was being snobbish and overbearing, but the Tate must now be sensitive to an art public different from the one to which it formerly catered, and it has reconsidered. This might explain the appointment of a couple of outside curators, who admit that they know little about their subject. “We are not specialists in Lowry”, writes Clark in the catalogue, “or British twentieth-century painting.” But they have glittering American academic credentials (Harvard and Berkeley) and T. J. Clark is a well-known Marxist art historian, the author of The Absolute Bourgeois: Artists and politics in France 1848–1851 and Image of the People: Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution (both 1973). Clark has influenced several generations of students in putting theory before practice, social history before connoisseurship. The exhibition’s title, Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life, is borrowed from another of Clark’s books, The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the art of Manet and his followers (1999). The key phrase comes from Baudelaire who, in the Salon of 1845, first demanded that artists address their own experience and their own times. Baudelaire’s ideal, it turned out, was a jobbing illustrator for the Illustrated London News called Constantin Guys who was an “observer, philosopher, flâneur” and “the painter of the passing moment”. It takes some effort to imagine Lowry the flâneur moving from doorstep to doorstep collecting rents, and even more to grasp how his work “demonstrates important parallels with late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century French impressionist and realist painting”.

more from Frank Whitford at the TLS here.