Estimated at £700,000-1m, it was knocked down at £2.2m to a private buyer.
The Mill, Pendlebury came to auction from the estate of Dr Leonard D Hamilton, a medical researcher who played an important role in the discovery of the structure of DNA. He developed techniques for extracting and purifying mammalian DNA, which helped Maurice Wilkins, James Watson and Francis Crick make their Nobel Prize-winning identification of the double-helix.
Hamilton grew up in Manchester – he attended Manchester Grammar School before gaining a place at Oxford – and his parents acquired the painting directly from the artist in the 1940s.
After receiving it as a gift from his parents, Hamilton kept it in his student rooms at Balliol College and later took it with him when he moved to the US in 1949 to further his studies and where he later became head of microbiology at Brookhaven National Laboratory from 1964-1977.
The signed 17.5 x 21.25in (44 x 54cm) oil on canvas from 1943 depicted a Manchester scene with the Acme Spinning Company Mill shown in the background. The large square building at the end of the row of terraces was an important landmark in the artist’s oeuvre. Lowry’s family had moved to Pendlebury in 1909 when he was 22 and the mill was a dominant feature of the local urban landscape.
The first cotton spinning mill in England to be solely driven by electricity, it initially appeared in his work in 1916 when he painted the first of his many industrial scenes.
The mill continued production until 1959 but the building survived for over two decades before it was eventually demolished in 1984, meaning it would have been familiar to many of today’s leading Lowry collectors from the Manchester area.
The recognisable view, the large number of figures and details such as the terraced houses and the children playing cricket made it a highly appealing commercial proposition. Attention on Lowry as an artist has also been boosted by the Mrs Lowry & Son film, starring Timothy Spall and Vanessa Redgrave, that came out last year.
While Christie’s sold A Northern Race Meeting for £4.5m in November 2018 and hold the £5m joint record for Piccadilly Circus, London and The Football Match that both sold in 2011, the £2.2m sum for The Mill, Pendlebury was deemed a strong price for a work of this size.