An image that could have been made at the height of lockdown, this deserted street corner by Laurence Stephen Lowry is a surprise from an artist better known for his crowded city landscapes. Lowry often recorded the ebb and flow of people’s daily lives; the striking absence of any living soul here has an unsettling resonance with what many of us have experienced over the past year. Indeed, there is a mournful feel to the house at the centre of the picture, with its narrow, black front door, partially drawn curtains and pavement-level window to a dark basement. Only a hint of colour in the flowers in the window strays from the repetitive palette.
The house is the birthplace of David Lloyd George. Described as “the most famous Welshman ever born in Manchester”, he became the youngest member of the House of Commons and was prime minister from 1916-22. Despite a career clouded by accusations of corruption, he is considered one of the chief architects of the UK’s welfare state and he continued to campaign for progressive causes until his death in 1945.
Thirteen years later, Lowry painted this house – a “two-up, two-down” on a street like hundreds of others in and around Manchester and Salford. Lowry presumably respected the achievements of a man, like himself, from a lower middle-class family who had gone on to forge immense national recognition.
But on a personal level, and despite his own success, Lowry was struggling with loneliness and isolation, and consistently reflected these in much of his work. This is a period of dramatically empty seascapes and landscapes – and here, empty city streets. Talking openly about such issues is a challenge today, but in the 1950s and 60s, these were bravely honest works that flew in the face of the expectations of his audience. “It’s the battle of life,” he said, “… and life’s pretty turbulent, isn’t it?”