The Pond
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Arty Fact

sjohnson's picture


Even though I have spent most of my life communicating in the English language, there is always something that escapes me about British culture, and Lowry's The Pond is a great example.

My first response to the painting is "Why would Prime Minister Harold Wilson want this on his official Christmas cards?" Doesn't it exaggerate the most dismal, unpleasant aspects of living in the North of England, the areas typically sadder and more industrial than the capital? According to the enormous contingent of Lowry-heads, and the artist himself, yes, absolutely. In Lowry's words, "I've a one track mind, sir. Poverty and gloom. Never a joyous picture of mine you'll see. Always gloom. I never do a jolly picture."

The Stockport Viaduct in greater Manchester plays a major role in The Pond, looking like the Colosseum in the upper right, carrying a train through the city. This is a composite image, dreamed up by Lowry after a full workday of collecting rent money from Manchester residents. The artist never had a sexual relationship, and he lived alone for the last few decades of his life. Of the Stockport Viaduct, he said, "It’s with me all the time – somewhere, just waiting to appear. It haunts me."

You could say there is one positive aspect of his work: the liveliness of the "matchstick people" despite the gloom of the surrounding architecture. There is a Where's Waldo look to The Pond, with an added level of sadness and understatedness, the latter of which is a big part of being British. When British people write about Lowry, they write in an even more British way than usual. See, for instance, Angela Levin's concluding sentence, at the end of a thorough study of his nonexistent sex life in the "middle-market" tabloid The Daily Mail: "He seems, more and more, like a rather interesting artist." Mm, quite. Instead of "fa sho" or "yup," Brits like to say "mm," which requires minimal effort. The fact that a tabloid would dedicate so much energy to an artist who made his name over fifty years ago is another sign that we are not in the U.S. I'm not holding my breath for a People feature on Georgia O'Keeffe, but blimey, wouldn't that be fantastic?



  1. "A Lowry Summer in an autumn deluge." That's how the light gets in, Sep. 27, 2012,
  2. Ehland, Christoph. Thinking Northern: Textures of Identity in the North of England. Leiden: Brill, 2007.
  3. Levin, Angela. "The dark side of the matchstick man: Painter L.S. Lowry never married or had a girlfriend. But the woman he befriended as a child now tells of their bizarre relationship." Daily Mail, Apr. 16, 2011,
  4. Rohde, Shelley. A private view of L. S. Lowry. New York: Collins, 1979.
  5. Rohde, Shelley. L.S. Lowry: a biography. Salford, UK: Lowry Press, 1999.