LS Lowry helped secure Matisse Sculpture for public

Revealing the generous spirit of L S Lowry

L S Lowry (1887-1976), the much loved British painter, is probably most famous for his scenes of mid-20th century life in the industrial districts of north-west England. However Tate Liverpool curators have recently discovered that a donation from Lowry contributed to the purchase of artwork by another famous artist, Henri Matisse (1869–1954)


Henri Matisse’s bronze sculptures known as the Backs on display in Matisse in Focus at Tate Liverpool until 2 May 2016

Henri Matisse’s bronze sculptures known as the Backs on display in Matisse in Focus at Tate Liverpool until 2 May 2016

© Tate Liverpool, Roger Sinek


In the process of researching Tate Liverpool’s upcoming display Matisse in Focus, opening on 20 November, the gallery’s curators have discovered that Lowry donated money to a public appeal launched by Tate in 1956.

The appeal asked the public to donate money to contribute to the purchase of Matisse’s largest bronze sculptures known as the Backs which depict a female body as seen from behind. These four sculptures began life as plaster casts early in Matisse’s career. They chart the development of his artistic process, beginning in 1909 with a realistic depiction of a woman, and evolving with each version to a more abstract impression of the female form, the final of the four plaster casts made in 1930. The four sculptures were subsequently cast in bronze just over a year after Matisse’s death in 1954.

The appeal asked art lovers to help complete for the nation the purchase of this group of sculptures. As part of the appeal the Trustees approached potential supporters, one of whom was L S Lowry. Found in the Tate archives is a letter from Lowry confirming his donation of £3.3.0 (three pounds, three shillings and zero pence); about £73 today.


Claire Stewart, Curator of The Lowry Collection said: ‘Lowry’s interests in art were wide-ranging – from the surrealists to the Pre-Raphaelites so it’s not surprising that he was happy to support Tate’s purchase of Matisse’s great work. Having spent so many of his younger years exhibiting work but rarely selling it, Lowry also liked to help young artists, such as Sheila Fell, at the start of their careers by buying their pictures. He understood what a boost it could be to someone’s confidence as well as giving them some financial support.’


Stephanie Straine, Curator, Tate Liverpool said: ‘It was the generosity of the public and L S Lowry in 1956 that helped Tate acquire these vitally important sculptures, meaning that even today we can exhibit them for the nation to see and enjoy. This is a fascinating discovery and I hope the public will visit the gallery knowing that when they are looking at these works by Matisse it is, in part, due to the generosity of one of the north-west’s most famous artists.’
Matisse in Focus is open from 20 November 2015–2 May 2016 and includes further Matisse works from the Tate collection that span the genres of portraiture, landscape and still life, encompassing painting, sculpture and works on paper. An additional highlight of the display will be The Snail 1953 – Liverpool is one of only four cities in recent years to exhibit this iconic work.
Matisse in Focus is curated by Stephanie Straine, Curator, Tate Liverpool.

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