Art & The Industrial Revolution

During the Industrial Revolution, a variety of avenues created change for artists like L.S. Lowry and influenced the production and distribution of art dramatically. 

The Industrial Revolution saw the development of an array of inventions, ushering in entrepreneurship and significant technical advancements while paradoxically skewing the socio-economic dynamic and increasing child and slave labour within the larger cities. 

During this period, a variety of avenues created change for artists and influenced the production and distribution of art dramatically. However, all of them can be summarised in one: The freedom of creation. Newly improved transportation routes enabled Great Britain to trade with the USA who at the time generated 61 percent of the world’s cotton. Edmund Cartwright’s power loom created a massive textile boom, creating commoditization to what was previously a craft culture. Availability of materials to artists was on the rise, with the saturation of the market allowing a steady drop in prices they had to pay. 

Other exciting developments such as John Goffe Rand’s invention of the tin paint tube saw a very simple design become a radical new opportunity for artists. Before this, paint would be mixed in the studio and often dried quickly. Rand’s solution allowed artists the freedom of movement for the first time, as opposed to being restricted to simpler media on-site. 

Of course, the boom of industrialisation saw a notable shift in the socio-economic and social aspects of society at the time. The rich were becoming richer, and working class people swarmed to cities in the masses to work in the factories. Much art created at this time became almost a reaction against the speed and metal of the industrial age. We saw the birth of Romanticism & Impressionism in pieces dedicated to the majesty of nature in an attempt to provide escapism from the unforgiving landscape of the smoggy cities. 

However, some creatives bloomed on the soot-showered streets of urban centres such as Lowry, whose work famously captures the progressive development of the industrial period and the unseen, or more likely, ignored working man. The artist's portrayal of the sombre, slumped figures trudging to and from work against dark barren cityscapes is one of few who acknowledged the people who silently kept the country running as company bosses and elites revelled in their success and monetary gains. 

The violent skew of the class systems in tandem with the newfound ability to mass produce and print saw the value of and crafted items skyrocket - but with this, the critics equally capitalised on the reliance of the wealthy to influence their investments. Lowry’s work was rejected as ‘notable’ by elitist critics for most of his life. Most likely due to his lower class and fascination on the industrial landscapes, which the elite often tried to ignore. It was a window into the poverty and ugliness they had created in a bid for their ill-gotten-gains, after all.  

Lowry’s work was finally accepted by wider society just months before the end of his life. Over time, we do see a more significant collection of artists begin to focus on industrialisation, likely influenced by critics and the elite confirming Lowry’s work as acceptable. Those few who had reluctantly explored mass-production of creative works begin to return to more traditional and organic methods of creative practice, but many of the true artists of industrialisation, those who documented and became inspired by their surroundings, will remain unnamed victims of the Capitalist culture of the Industrial Revolution. 

The Collection by L.S. Lowry is currently available to view at Hancock Gallery. You can visit us for free every Tuesday-Saturday or contact us to book an exclusive appointment with one of our art advisors for a 1-2-1 exhibition tour. 

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