On leaving school in 1904, he began work in Manchester as a clerk with a firm of chartered accountants, studying painting and drawing in the evenings at the Municipal College of Art (1905–15), and at Salford School of Art (1915–25). In 1910 he became a rent collector and clerk with the Pall Mall Property Company in Manchester; he remained a full-time employee and eventually chief cashier until his retirement in 1952. Despite his unusually long period as an art student, he regarded himself as self-taught. He drew inspiration from his surroundings, particularly Pendlebury, near Manchester, where he lived from 1909 to 1948.
Lowry’s reputation was slow to be established. In 1962 he was elected an RA. Lowry remained unconcerned by his growing fame and commercial success; from 1948 until his death he lived in the same small, unmodernised house in Cheshire.
Although Lowry is chiefly associated with street scenes and townscapes, his subject-matter was far more wide-ranging. He painted country scenes, as well as views of the seaside and of harbours. Though often represented as a reclusive man, his affection for relatives and close friends is shown in the Portrait of the Artist’s Mother (1910; Salford, Mus. & A.G.). Occasionally he touched on current affairs, for example in Blitzed Site (1942; Salford, Mus. & A.G.), depicting the damage caused by a German air raid on Manchester in World War II, although recording events of this sort was never one of his main interests.