To celebrate the upcoming opening of Kith and Kinship: Cornish and Lowry at The Bowes Museum (20 July 2024 to 19 January 2025) we're taking a deeper look at these two incredible artists, and how their paths crossed previously.

self portrait of Norman Cornish and Lowry

N.S. Cornish: Self Portrait with Spectacles 1972  and L.S. Lowry: Self Portrait, 1925.


L.S.Lowry (1887-1976) RBA, RA, painted scenes of life in industrial districts of NW England: urban landscapes, seascapes, portraits and surreal imaginings. He was a rent collector for 42 years, painting in his spare time. He became one of the most famous British artists of the 20th Century and in 1976 he died six months before a major retrospective at the RA which attracted record numbers of visitors.

Norman Cornish

 Norman Cornish (MBE 1919 -2014) was perhaps the most famous artist to emerge from the North East of England in the 20th Century and he became one of the leading British artists of his time. His work is held in public and private collections throughout the UK and abroad.

Lowry was an outsider looking in on his subjects whereas Cornish was immersed in his community and accepted as a miner and artist for 33 years, prior to becoming a professional artist from 1967 until he died in 2014. He worked for more years as a professional artist than he did underground as a miner. A fact often overlooked.

During a period of 16 years between 1951 and 1967 they exhibited together on six occasions. 

1951: Tullie House, Carlisle:  ‘Realism in Contemporary Painting’ by Northern Artists including Theodore Major, Ned Owen, and  Victor Pasmore. One of the first exhibitions to be aimed specifically at working people. Lowry was 64 yrs, and Cornish 32 yrs.   

1952: ‘The Mirror and The Square – Realism to Abstraction,’ New Barrington Galleries, London. Other artists including   Stanley Spencer, Victor Pasmore, Graham Sutherland and Barbara Hepworth.

1959: The Stone Gallery- Newcastle  including John Piper

1964: The Stone Gallery-Newcastle.   Lowry doesn’t exhibit but purchases  two Cornish paintings including ‘The Gantry’ 30 Gns. 1966  The Stone Gallery-Newcastle including Sheila Fell.

1966/67: The Stone Gallery-Newcastle  Winter Exhibition including Sir William McTaggart, Theodore Major, John Piper, Augustus John, W.R. Sickert, JM Whistler, George Roualt, Maurice de Vlaminck.

1967: The Stone Gallery –Newcastle  Mixed Exhibition including George Romney, John Constable, William Etty, W Holman Hunt, DG Rossetti, JE Millais, Sheila  Fell, Sir William Mc Taggart, Ben Nicholson.

1.	1951  Tullie House, Carlisle:  ‘Realism in Contemporary Painting’ by Northern Artists advert

Lowry and Cornish were significant contemporaries during the ’50s and ‘60s, progressing from exhibitions in other parts of the country to a strong regional arts scene in the NE of England overseen by their agents Mick and Tilly Marshall at The Stone Gallery in Newcastle. Cornish was a regular visitor to the Stone Gallery at weekends and there he and Lowry would meet outside of the formal exhibitions.  ‘Cornish was the only artist Lowry was jealous of’ said Tilly Marshall, ‘Life with Lowry’ (1981). 

Did you know? 

On one occasion when Ted Heath (Prime Minister) was visiting The Stone Gallery in 1970, Cornish declined to be photographed with Lowry, Sheila Fell and Mick Marshall, despite the request coming from film director Brian Forbes. Cornish was sensitive to the potential response in his community of being photographed with the Tory PM.

Lowry was a regular visitor to Sunderland during this time, staying at The Seaburn Hotel and, for several years, Cornish was a lecturer at Sunderland Art College from 1967.

Cornish and Lowry referred to each other as Mr Cornish and Mr Lowry. 

Their work was re-united in 2013 on the wall of The National Glass Centre in Sunderland  when ‘The Pit Road in Winter’ was gifted to Sunderland University by Cornish’s family, and hung at the National Glass Centre opposite Lowry’s  drawing of ‘Monkwearmouth Church.’

Lowry was a member of the RA but declined a Knighthood in 1968 and he holds the record for the most honours declined.

Cornish was awarded an MBE in 2008 and the following academic awards:

  • 1974   Hon Master of Arts from Newcastle University
  • 1995   Hon Doctorate of Civil Law from Northumbria University
  • 2011   Hon Doctorate of Arts from Sunderland University

Associate Professor, Jean Brown, Northumbria University

BBC Radio 4  Today, November 15 -  In answer to the interviewer’s question: ‘Will his work stand the test of time?'  "Absolutely , because it is up there with Rembrandt, Degas and Lautrec".

Andrew Festing, Sothebys, Head of British Painting 1977-81, President of The Royal Society of Portrait Painters 2002- 2008 and MBE 2007

‘Cornish’s drawings are as good as any other artist in history?’
"The drawings of figures climbing the gantry have a look of a Piranesi print. The sketches of heads, bent figures on bicycles, sitting on benches and standing in queues are Rembrandt like. His family – wife and children remind me of JF Millais and Van Gogh".

In the late ‘50s and early ‘60s Lowry came to the North East to stay with his friends Tony and Joan Ellis at Barnard Castle. Tony Ellis had been Keeper of Salford Art Gallery before moving to Barnard Castle in 1958 to become Deputy Director of the Bowes Museum. Lowry stayed the weekend with them on a number of occasions and thought highly of the Bowes Museum, writing in a letter.

"It was very nice to see you there in Barnard Castle, and every time I see the collection in your museum I like it better and better – I always find something fresh to my mind, in some way or other" - October 27 1961 - Juliet Horsley  Tyne & Wear Museums Service, 1989

Cornish was a native of the region, living and working in Spennymoor, Durham throughout his life.   

"Spennymoor has all that an artist needs" - The Test of Time, 2024, M & AThornton

At an early age he was advised to ‘paint the things around you, the things you know' - The Test of Time, 2024, M & A Thornton.

Lowry’s drawing of The Stone Gallery, Newcastle Upon Tyne, is one of a number of previously unseen pictures by both artists being exhibited for the first time ever at The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, from July 20 2024 until January 19 2025 - Norman Cornish and LS Lowry: Kith and Kinship. 

The Stone Gallery, Newcastle Upon Tyne by Norman Cornish




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