“My ambition was to put the industrial scene on the map because nobody had seriously done it,” Laurence Stephen Lowry once said. The artist found his artistic inspiration after missing a train at Pendlebury station in 1916 – he saw a view of Acme Spinning Company’s mill, and hundreds of little figures working, and suddenly knew what he wanted to paint.
Although Lowry is best known for his imposing landscapes of factories and mills – and despite his own claim that he would “never do a jolly picture” – his most sought-after paintings on the secondary market are often surprisingly cheerful. Here we take a look at Lowry’s top ten artworks at auction.
- The Football Match
- Piccadilly Circus
- A Northern Race Meeting
- Good Friday, Daisy Nook
- Fun Fair at Daisy Nook
- The Mill, Pendlebury
- Industrial Landscape
- A Town Square
- Saturday Afternoon
- Coming from the Match
The Football Match
Currently the most expensive painting by the artist at auction, The Football Match combines Lowry’s favourite artistic subject and his personal passion – the industrial landscape and football. Lowry was a supporter of Manchester City football club and brought his experiences of home games into this work, which depicts excited crowds at a Saturday afternoon football game.
When The Football Match was offered in Christie’s 20th Century British & Irish Art auction in London on 26 May 2011, the painting had not been seen in public for almost 20 years. It soared above its high estimate of £4.5 million and broke the previous record for a work by Lowry, set by Good Friday, Daisy Nook in 2007.
At a joint-first place for the most expensive Lowry painting at auction is Piccadilly Circus, which also achieved £5.6 million when it was offered at Christie’s 20th Century British & Irish Art Evening Sale in London on 16 November 2011 – nearly half a year after the sale of The Football Match. The painting had come to auction for the first time, after being hidden in the same private collection for 35 years. It was offered for auction again at Sotheby’s in London on 25 March 2014, where it sold for £5,122,500.
Lowry rarely painted London scenes and Piccadilly Circus is one of only two works to depict the landmark. The painting was formerly owned by entrepreneur Lord Forte and then A.J. Thompson, an esteemed collector who only bought works by Lowry.
A Northern Race Meeting
Painted in 1956, A Northern Race Meeting depicts a crowd of people enjoying a day out at the racetrack. Although Lowry often depicted football matches, he seldom painted horse-racing – making this a rare work in the artist’s career. The painting was purchased shortly after it was created and had been on long-term loan to Graves Art Gallery in Sheffield since 1983. When A Northern Race Meeting was offered at Christie’s in London on 19 November 2018, it was the star lot of the evening, achieving more than double its high estimate of £2.5 million.
Good Friday, Daisy Nook
Although Lowry once said “I only deal with poverty; always with gloom. You’ll never see a joyous picture of mine. I never do a jolly picture”, his portfolio does includes festive works such as Good Friday, Daisy Nook, or in his depiction of football matches.
Painted in 1946, Good Friday, Daisy Nook shows a crowd at the annual Easter fair at Daisy Nook, near Manchester. The scene is filled with post-war optimism and leisure, with children holding balloons and bright, multicoloured tents dotting the background. When this cheerful painting was offered at Christie’s in London on 8 June 2007, it soared past its high estimate of £1.5 million and set a new world auction record for Lowry at the time – which it held until The Football Match came to auction four years later.
Fun Fair at Daisy Nook
Painted in 1953, Fun Fair at Daisy Nook is another depiction of the annual Easter fair. Like Good Friday, Daisy Nook, painted seven years earlier, the yellow tent of ‘Silcock Bros. Thriller’ fairground ride features clearly in the background of Fun Fair at Daisy Nook, and people of all ages wander in the foreground. Fun Fair at Daisy Nook also comes from the Lord Forte Collection and was offered at Christie’s in London on 16 November 2011, where the work became the second-highest lot of the night.
The Mill, Pendlebury
The Acme Spinning Company mill at Pendlebury is possibly Lowry’s most famous subject – yet, when The Mill, Pendlebury came to auction at Christie’s in London on 21 January 2020, it was considered a significant rediscovery. The painting had not been seen in public, or even recorded in publications, for over 70 years.
Lowry had sold The Mill, Pendlebury directly to the family of the late owner, Dr Leonard D. Hamilton, who later took it with him to the United States. The work only came to light again after the scientist’s death. Estimated between £70,000 and £1 million, The Mill, Pendlebury went on to become the star lot of the evening, achieving over double the expected price.
Another painting from the Lord Forte Collection, Industrial Landscape was the third-highest lot in Christie’s evening auction on 16 November 2011. The work features some of Lowry’s best-known motifs: a panoramic view of an industrial wasteland, with the skyline dominated by chimneys blowing out dark smoke and a contaminated river, coloured a murky grey. Tiny figures dot the foreground. Lowry claimed he only used five colours in his paintings – vermillion red, ivory black, Prussian blue, yellow ochre and flake white – Industrial Landscape would prove this to be true.
A Town Square
“A street is not a street without people,” Lowry once said. A Town Square is a classic Lowry scene, transforming a mundane, everyday moment into a quiet, charming spectacle. Unlike Lowry’s iconic, but largely anonymous, little ‘matchstick men’, the characters in A Town Square are large enough to see their distinctive, individual figures and expressive faces. The work, also formerly owned by collector A.J. Thompson, was the second-highest lot offered at Sotheby’s Lowry: The A.J. Thompson Collection evening auction on 25 March 2014.
Under the shadow of an imposing mill – possibly the Acme Spinning Company mill in Pendlebury – a group of children play a casual football game next to a proper match with a large crowd. Saturday Afternoon combines many of Lowry’s favourite themes: daily life, work and leisure against a Northern England industrial background. The painting also belonged to the Lord Forte Collection and was offered at Christie’s on 16 November 2011, where it exceeded its high estimate.
Coming from the Match
Coming from the Match is believed to be Lowry’s only depiction of a rugby game, showing a crowd of fans leaving the stadium after attending a Rochdale Hornets rugby match. Although a few characters in the foreground wear striped rugby shirts, the scene looks similar to Lowry’s better-known paintings of people rushing to work. This rare work was offered in Christie’s first standalone auction dedicated to Lowry – People Watching: The Art of L.S. Lowry Online – from 15 June to 2 July 2020, where it sold for over four times its low estimate.