Welcome to the occasional series of art posts when I know next to nothing about the artwork but merrily write stuff anyway for my two loyal readers. But, it’s rather good (the artwork, not my posts). It’s entitled ‘The Fever Van’ and it’s by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), painted in 1935.
The gallery notes:
“‘The Fever Van’ shows an ambulance arriving to collect a patient from a small terraced house. The sufferer probably has diptheria [sic] 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.”
Although I particularly like this comment from Lowry:
“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.”
It’s a reminder how prevalent diseases were in the last century, with routine vaccinations against diphtheria not taking place until the 1940s and scarlet fever had only been addressed in the 1930s. I hadn’t realised how effective diphtheria vaccines were, seeing a reduction in cases from 46,000 in 1940 to 962 in 1950, with a corresponding fall in deaths from 2,480 to 49.
With great foresight from the Walker Art Gallery, they purchased it directly from Lowry in November 1943. His mother had died in October 1939, before he had gained the formidable reputation that he now has, and it’s noted that he regretted that she didn’t see the impact that her son’s works were having. The painting just seems bleak to me, there’s the obvious sadness of the ambulance, but the whole atmosphere feels grey and industrial. But, that’s something of the point of the painting and I found myself quite drawn to this snapshot of the age. It’s also reminded me that I must visit the Lowry Museum in Salford at some point, another location that I’ll put on the list that perhaps one day I’ll complete ticking things off.