Six works by L.S. Lowry are to be auctioned in the Modern & Contemporary Art Sale at Tennants Auctioneers on 17th June. The drawings, pastel and paintings are all from private collections and represent a diverse cross section of Lowry’s extensive and varied oeuvre.
Hailing from a Private Family Collection, put together by the vendor’s father in the 1970s, is ‘Tug’ (estimate: £60,000-90,000 plus buyer’s premium), ‘Street Scene with Figures’ (estimate: £40,000-60,000), and in collaboration with Harold Riley ‘Man in Wheelchair’ (estimate: £10,000-15,000). ‘Tug’, executed in 1959 in oil on panel, reflects Lowry’s love of the sea, and was likely painted during one of his numerous stays at the Seaburn Hotel, Sunderland with its extensive sea views. The focus of the painting is the small but mighty tug, the hardest worker in the port. Lowry captures its strength and determination, battling its way across the picture trailing black smoke against the flat, white, almost featureless background.
‘Street Scene with Figures’ is the earliest work so far to appear on the market from a rare group of vibrant figurative pastels. It seems that Lowry painted one per year from 1947 (or earlier) to 1950, all executed in exactly the same materials, style, technique and handling. Two notable works from the series have previously been sold at auction, ‘Cowles Fish & Chips, Cleator Moor 1948’, and ‘The Broken Shop Window at Cleator Moor, 1950’. Both were executed during Lowry’s yearly trips to Cleator Moor in Cumbria to visit his great friend Reverend Geoffrey Bennett (1902-1991). Lowry and Bennett first met in 1926, and Bennett, who was a bank manager turned vicar, was a major collector and supporter of his friend’s work. Indeed, he later conducted Lowry’s funeral service.
The third painting in the group, ‘Man in a Wheelchair’, was executed in collaboration with his long-term friend and fellow artist Harold Riley, who died in April 2023. The pair met in 1945 when Lowry presented Riley with a prize at the Salford Grammar School art exhibition. Forming a deep friendship, Riley and Lowry collaborated on numerous works; however, they were usually works on paper making this oil on board very unusual. The painting’s subject relates to Lowry’s 1949 work “The Cripples”, now in The Lowry, Salford, and this 1968 collaboration, which is jointly signed, was purchased directly from Harold Riley. Lowry scholar Jonathan Horwich says of the painting “I have seen a number of these ‘joint ventures’ over the years, and I imagine both artists had great fun deciding who would paint what, perhaps swapping their usual subjects to tease us”. Both artists’ signatures are on the painting, and Horwich believes Riley executed the figures and Lowry the wheelchair, street and buildings.
From another Private Collection, from the North West, are two drawings, “Family Group at the Seaside” (estimate: £40,000-60,000), and ‘Group of Figures, Young and Old’ (estimate: £30,000-50,000). Lowry was vehement about the importance of drawing, considering it an art form in its own right. At Manchester College of Art, he was taught to draw in the classical manner, and his life drawings from this period are technically excellent. However, during the 1920s he began to develop his own unique style, experimenting with subjects, different techniques of drawing, and establishing a visual language that he would utilise and hone throughout his career. Interestingly, he continued to dress his figures in the same depression-era clothes of the 1920s, when widespread poverty led workers to wear ill-fitting second-hand garments. Whilst this can be partially attributed to the 1920s being the time when he established his style, it was also the happiest period of his often-troubled life, and in addition he admitted to finding the oversized clothing very amusing.
From the 1960s, towards the later stages of his life, Lowry’s drawings became both less formal and colder and more critical towards his subjects. Figures became almost objects of ridicule, dressed in his characteristic baggy garments, as seen in ‘Group of Figures Young and Old’. He often focussed, too, on marginalised or unsavoury figures such as tramps and football hooligans, leaning more towards a social commentary rather than purely documenting his surroundings. “Family Group at the Seaside” (1969) is a rare example of Lowry’s depicting contemporary dress and hairstyles, and is suggested to be one of his first images of a modern teenager.
From a further Private Collection is “A Family Group” (1966) (estimate: £5,000-8,000), which was executed by Lowry on one of his frequent holidays to the Seaburn Hotel. Lowry delighted in observing and recording ordinary people going about their lives. However, sometimes he would conjure up a scene of everyday life from his imagination, as in the present drawing that was executed during a conversation with Leslie Anthony, the manager of the Seaburn Hotel. Whilst talking, Lowry began drawing on the flyleaf of a catalogue of the Sunderland Museum and Art Gallery retrospective L.S. Lowry. He switched between a ballpoint pen and a pencil as he worked; once completed, he gave the drawing to Mr Anthony, who was delighted with this spontaneous gift. The drawing was later exhibited at the Sunderland Museum and Art Gallery.