Last Sunday we decided to visit the Lowry in Salford to look at the exhibition of paintings of the sea by Magi Hambling and L S Lowry. We’d enjoyed Hambling’s pictures in the exhibition of her paintings of George Melly – “George Always” – that we’d seen at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool earlier this year.
In reality, the exhibition was mainly devoted to Maggi Hambling with a large number of paintings, with some lithographs and sculptures, she had created inspired by the North Sea in Suffolk. I guess the inclusion of paintings by Lowry was really because the exhibition was taking place in the gallery named after him and partly created to house the collection of his works owned by Salford council. The Lowry pictures were displayed very much on their own and separate from Hambling’s and there really wasn’t any attempt to compare them, and the two painter’s different approaches to the same subject.
Maggi Hambling started painting the North Sea on the Suffolk Coast in 2002, while she was waiting for permission to build “Scallop”, her monument to Benjamin Britten on Aldeburgh beach. They are very powerful, illustrating a violent, stormy sea. Rather than paint a seascape, her pictures concentrate on close-ups of the waves – and while viewing them you feel as if you are in the sea amongst the waves – in some cases it is almost as if you are engulfed by them.
In contrast, Lowry’s pictures, which were painted towards the end of his life, take a broader view and are more like traditional seascapes.The pictures were much smaller in scale than most of Hambling’s. His seas are, in the main, much more sedate. Even where he paints a stormy sea, the waves are viewed from afar so the effect was much less dramatic, and looking at them I felt more like a passive observer than when viewing Hambling’s work. I liked them, but they didn’t engage the viewer and draw you in the way Hambling’s did.
There’s an audio sideshow from the BBC about Maggi Hambling’s North sea paintings.