Estimated at £5m-8m at tonight's evening sale, it drew a competition between three bidders, two on the phone and one in the room, before it was knocked down to the latter at £6.6m.
The winning bid was placed by Julia Fawcett, chief executive of The Lowry in Salford, who was sitting in the front row of the saleroom alongside the museum’s director of visual art Michael Simpson. The gallery paid £7.8m (including fees) after receiving a gift from the Law Family charitable foundation, set up by the hedge fund manager Andrew Law and his wife, Zoë.
Following the sale, Fawcett said: “This evening, thanks to an incredibly generous gift from The Law Family Charitable Foundation, we are delighted to have purchased Going to the Match for the city’s collection of LS Lowry works. We look forward to bringing it home to Salford, where it can continue to delight and attract visitors to the Andrew and Zoë Law Galleries at The Lowry.”
An announcement on The Lowry's website soon afterwards stated: “The painting’s iconic status has been recognised and loved by visitors of all ages: those who love art, those who love football and those who celebrate this quintessentially Northern experience.”
The painting from 1953 showing fans flocking towards a stadium outscored the previous auction record for Lowry, The Football Match from 1949 which sold for £5m at Christie's in 2011.
Going to the Match was reappearing at auction having sold at Sotheby’s for £1.75m in 1999. Back then, it was bought by the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) which placed it on long-term loan at The Lowry after the museum opened in 2000.
Here it was being sold on behalf of The Players Foundation, a charity dedicated to footballers’ welfare formerly known as the Professional Footballers' Association Charity, but no longer under the umbrella of the PFA.
Christie’s said that proceeds from the sale “will be used to allow the organisation to continue its charitable work in, among other things, assisting with those who have dementia and relieving poverty among current or former professional players”.
Before the sale, a spokesperson for The Players Foundation said: “Going to the Match has been on display for the last 22 years and we are very proud that we have been able to make sure the British public have had the opportunity to enjoy such a wonderful piece of footballing memorabilia and art.
“Players Foundation no longer has any income guaranteed, so we have had to completely reposition the charity. The trustees recognise the current financial crisis means we need all the income we can obtain, and all our assets have to function for us to ensure our on-going work. We want to continue to assist people with dementia and provide benevolent grants to those in real financial need, among other things. This has led us to the inevitable decision that the Lowry has to be sold in the interests of our beneficiaries.”
The work itself is the largest example from a group of Lowry paintings depicting sporting scenes and venues. It shows a vast, urban scene taken over by the collective movement of a large crowd, with figures seemingly arriving from all directions towards a football stadium.
Going to the Match was painted for an exhibition in 1953, sponsored by The Football Association, where Lowry won first prize. The setting chosen by the artist for the picture was Burnden Park, the former home of Bolton Wanderers.