Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Woman With a Beard

Lancashire artist LS Lowry was no stranger to Wales. He sketched many early scenes at Rhyl and along the north Wales coast where he often holidayed. Later he was introduced to the industrial landscapes of south Wales by friend and collector Monty Bloom. In fact for six years he was visiting Wales twice a year. His oil paintings Ebbw Vale (1960), Hillside in Wales (1962), Six Bells Colliery, Abertillery (1962), and Bargoed (1965) are rightly regarded as being amongst his finest works.

However my favourite Welsh Lowry is his Woman With a Beard (1957). In his introduction to The Paintings of LS Lowry Swansea artist Mervyn Levy recounts the story behind this unusual artwork. Lowry (who was a friend of his) apparently told him that while travelling on a train from South Wales to Paddington a bearded lady boarded at Newport and sat opposite him. Naturally he was shocked by her appearance. But not so shocked as to stop himself getting out a sketch pad and doing a drawing of her. Unsurprisingly she was a bit miffed by his artistic attentions and reprimanded him severely. Nevertheless the artist and the bearded lady got talking and by the end of the journey they were on friendly terms. On the platform at Paddington they even shook hands. From the train-bound sketch Lowry painted Woman With a Beard in 1957.

So next time you are stuck on the Swansea to Paddington due, no doubt, to engineering works somewhere near Swindon console yourself with the cultural significance of your journey. And keep an eye out for that bearded lady when you pass through Newport.