The Fever Van

Laurence Stephen Lowry, 1935

WAG 363

About this object

© The estate of L. S. Lowry. All rights reserved, DACS 2014.

'The Fever Van' is one of the many views of Salford painted by Lowry. It is, however, a distinctive work. While most of his paintings of the urban scene are predominantly atmospheric, here there is a story at the heart of the picture. An ambulance has drawn up outside a house to collect a fever patient.

Lowry has chosen to show the scene from a distance, as if he is trying to suggest that such events are part of every day life in the town. The painting conveys the pain and suffering of not just the victim, but of the community as a whole.

"The Fever Van" shows an ambulance arriving to collect a patient from a small terraced house. The sufferer probably has diptheria or scarlet fever, both highly contagious diseases and widespread in industrial Britain in the 1930s. A lack of vaccinations meant that such diseases were frequently fatal.

Lowry's treatment of the theme avoids excessive sentimentality; he goes for a distant view of the ambulance and the crowd gathered around it rather than a close-up of the drama. He was clearly interested in the effect of accidents on the urban scene and once said: "Accidents interest me - I have a very queer mind you know. What fascinates me is the people they attract. The patterns those people form, and the atmosphere of tension when something has happened… Where there's a quarrel there's always a crowd… It's a great draw. A quarrel or a body."

Lowry is often characterised as a self-taught artist, but despite the apparent naivity of his work, drawing was always the foundation of his paintings. The cropped edges of "The Fever Van" give a feeling of incompleteness to the scene, suggesting the ephemeral and fragmentary character of life in industrial towns.

Lowry greatly admired the work of the Pre-Raphaelite artists: the vibrancy of his colours and the white base of his paintings are reminiscent of their work. However Lowry's whites were not smooth or even, but full of subtle colours ranging from sharp and brilliant to soft and creamy hues.

In "The Fever Van" the red of the houses in the foreground contrasts with the greyish blue of the church in the distance. The smoke from the chimney on the left-hand side casts a shadow onto the walls opposite, serving as a visual metaphor for the all-pervasive smog of industrial Salford.

Object specifics

  • Artist(s)
    Laurence Stephen Lowry (British: English, born:01 November 1887, died:23 February 1976)
  • Date
    1935
  • Materials
    Oil; Canvas
  • Measurements
    canvas/support: 43.1 cm x 53.3 cm x 6.5 cm
  • Physical description
    A street scene with terrace houses lining both sides of the road and a smoking chimney on the left. A group of people are gathered at the end of the street where an ambulance has stopped. Passers by in the foreground are looking at the scene and there is a church at the far end of the street.
  • Related people
    Laurence Stephen Lowry (Artist/maker, previous owner)
  • Other number(s)
    WAG Inventory Number: 363
  • Credit line
    Purchased by the Walker Art Gallery in 1943
  • Location
    Walker Art Gallery, Room 11
  • Collection
    From the Walker Art Gallery collections

Ownership

Previous owners

  • Laurence Stephen Lowry

    Owned from: 1935
    How acquired: Unknown or unrecorded
    Owned until: 1943-11
    Disposal method: Sold to the Walker Art Gallery

Inscriptions

Item inscriptions

  • Inscription text: L. S. Lowry 1935
    Inscription method:
    Inscription note:
    Inscription location: Front; Lower left
  • Inscription text: X3376 (MS)
    Inscription method:
    Inscription note:
    Inscription location:
  • Inscription text: B3127 (framemakers label)
    Inscription method:
    Inscription note:
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Object view = Fine Art
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