London will finally doff a belated flat cap and honour LS Lowry with the first major exhibition of the world-renowned Salford artist in the capital for 37 years.
Tate Britain’s Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life exhibition, starting in June, aims to re-examine the painter ‘for a new and extended audience’.
The announcement follows stinging criticism from some cultural commentators that a London metropolitan elite had ignored Lowry because he was ‘too northern’.
It will bring together about 80 works by the Stretford-born former rent collector, famous for his ‘matchstick’ figures, including Tate’s own Coming Out Of School 1927 and The Pond 1950 alongside ‘significant loans’ from other institutions.
Tate says ‘the show aims to re-assess Lowry’s contribution as part of a wider art history and to argue for his achievement as Britain’s pre-eminent painter of the industrial city’.
The exhibition is the first in the capital by any public institution since Lowry’s death in 1976 aged 88 and follows stinging criticism of a perceived snub.
Burnley-born former Coronation Street actor Sir Ian McKellen, speaking in 2011, challenged Tate to sells its Lowrys if it continued to exclude him from exhibitions.
While other northern artists were embraced in the capital, Sir Ian said Lowry’s reputation was assaulted by ‘silly lies... that he was only a Sunday painter, an amateur, untrained and naïve’.
Lowry himself expressed irritation at the ‘Sunday painter’ tag.
The fact foreign visitors to the capital had no access to Lowry was ‘a shame verging on the iniquitous’, said Sir Ian in an ITV documentary.
Manchester-raised rocker Noel Gallagher, a big fan of Lowry, asked: “Is it because he is a northerner?”
Speaking about the new exhibition, Lowry’s friend and fellow artist Harold Riley said: “It’s not necessarily the Tate. It’s the entire art establishment of Great Britain which has snubbed him for many, many years.”
The Lowry in Salford Quays, which houses the largest public collection of Lowry artefacts in the world, boasting some 400 paintings, drawings and pastels, is loaning 30 works for the Tate’s exhibition.
Head of galleries Michael Simpson said: “I would say snub is too strong a word. They have certainly not looked carefully at putting on a major exhibition for many years and that might be because of a northern prejudice or an academic snobbery. I don’t know. But the fact is Lowry has had an awful lot of exhibitions around the country. And the bottom line is we have been in discussion with Tate about this for the last five years.”
The Tate exhibition runs from June 25 to October 20.
A spokeswoman said: “The Tate Gallery recognised the work of LS Lowry early on and he has continued to be recognised as a major figure in 20th century British art. In planning our exhibitions, we hope to meet popular demand and to stimulate new thinking about a subject. Lowry is an artist who has made a significant contribution to British art.”