The Fever Van

WAG 363


'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.