LS Lowry’s painting ‘Going to Work,’ has spent much of its life in storage since its creation during the Second World War. Now it has been cleaned and restored to its former colours, this depiction of industrial working life is now on permanent display at IWM North.

Going to Work

Laurence Lowry's painting 'Going to Work.'
© IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 3074)

LS Lowry's iconic painting 'Going to Work,' was commissioned in 1943 at the height of the Second World War by the War Artists Advisory Committee (WAAC).

Heavy industry was playing a crucial role in the war effort and the WAAC wanted to reflect that in their art collection. 

'A huge part of the population was engaged in industry and the commissioning bodies were really keen to get artists to represent it, so that's why Lowry, in particular, was ideal,' says IWM curator, Claire Brenard. 


Filled with all the signature features that have made Lowry such a much-loved artist, 'Going to Work,' is set in front of the Mather & Platt engineering works in Manchester as the crowd of matchstick workers flow into the factory. The white sky and ground, originally thought to be snow, is in fact an evocation of industrial haze. 

At the time, Lowry was paid 25 guineas for the commission and finished 'Going to Work' in three months. Once complete, it went on display a number of times at home and abroad as the WAAC attempted to promote Britain's Second World War effort. 

"A huge part of the population was engaged in industry and the commissioning bodies were really keen to get artists to represent it, so that's why Lowry, in particular, was ideal " - IWM curator, Claire Brenard. 

After the war, IWM helped to relocate many of the 6,000 artworks the WAAC had collected at galleries and institutions around the world. In the process, IWM itself received around 3,000 works of art, including Lowry's 'Going to Work.'

For many years, 'Going to Work,' was stored at IWM London but is now on display for the first time alongside Flora Lion's Building Flying-Boats and Anna Airy's 'The 'L' Press. Forging the Jacket of an 18-inch Gun' will also go on display for the first time, too. 

Restoring 'Going to Work'

Claire Brenard: "Laurence Stephen Lowry was born in 1887 and he died in 1976. He was actually born in Stretford which is now part of Greater Manchester, and he lived in Manchester all his life painting scenes mainly in Salford, just across the way from IWM North. He's very famous particularly for his scenes of people going to work, which is the title of this painting, they're going to work. And this is rather typical of his work in that it shows these, sort of, what people call matchstick figures going about their business and crowds on their way to working in the factories. 

"This particular painting came to IWM because it was collected by the War Artists Advisory Committee during the Second World War. Lowry was engaged by the committee in 1943 and the committee were keen to depict industrial scenes, as heavy industry's important part of the war effort. Of course, Lowry was the ideal artist to go and paint in his native Manchester.

Nicoletta Tomassi: "When we conserve a painting we try to understand more about it, so it is a way to learn more about the artist and the painting, and it is useful for us as conservators as well, because we can understand better new methods of material we can use during conservation process. Lowry was quite precise in getting the right white balance in his painting and the white background, and the varnish was yellowing and thus changing the balance of the colours. I found it essential to remove all the varnishing. We have as conservators endless means or tools we can use to do so, so we have to balance the effectiveness and safety of the procedure with what we have in front of us. I use a combination of solvent and hydrocarbon and alcohol applied with a cotton swab and the varnish came off really promptly, and the painting underneath has not been affected at all. So we are now seeing the painting close to the original intention of the artist. 

"When I work on a painting I really feel that I have a connection with the artist because I have the privilege not only to look closely at the painting but to touch it as well, and I can feel the combination of materials and some time I try to understand what was the reasoning behind reaching certain type of effect, or not, and I imagine myself being behind the shoulder of the artist and watching him or her working on that painting, so it's a real privilege."

Claire: "This painting, although has been exhibited a few times not long after it was made, has been in store for most of its life. It's finally coming out now and will go on permanent display in IWM North where it really belongs".

Ahead of its display, the painting has undergone some conservation work. The process included the removal of varnish from the painting, which was added sometime after Lowry created the artwork as Lowry did not varnish his paintings. The varnish had affected the colour balancing of the artwork, adding a yellow hint to the painting. Removing the varnish has revealed the work that Lowry originally intended.

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