Sixty-nine

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Clifford’s Tower, York

1953 by L. S. Lowry
York City Art Gallery

Lowry’s painting of Clifford’s Tower is unusual in more ways than one. It marks Lowry’s crossing of the land of the Roses to look at the ancient gate house of York; being so infamous for depicting the industry of Lancashire, it is quite a depart from the norm. More than this, Clifford’s Tower has very few people compared to Lowry’s other paintings; usually swarming with his distinctive matchstick men – clothed in black hurrying on through life (see postcard thirteen) – here they are more modestly scattered in small groups. They provide only a subtle human presence, reflecting the pre-industrial age of the subject they surround. The people indicate an atmosphere of calm, of quiet wandering afternoons, exactly the opposite effect they serve in other paintings, where they seem to symbolise the busyness and rush of their surroundings. The colour palette also contradicts Lowry’s usual blue; the inky colours of the town have been replaced with the lightness of cream and naturalist green. White is warmed with earthy brown as light creates an openness of space, dominating the painting with the expanse of clear sky, free from the clouds of pollution that so often seep into Lowry’s skies. The texture of paint prevents any flatness in what is a beautifully simple composition; predominantly split by two colours, Lowry’s painting creates a depth and suggestion of space. His illustrative style is happily retained, as he gives the tower’s mound a joyfully angled, playful tree. Yet, for all this, as though he can’t resist, a wide-barrelled chimney is sketched lightly in the bottom right hand corner, a faint ghost of industry.

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