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Shelter Drawing: Seated Mother and Child by Henry Moore – £700,000 at Sotheby’s evening sale.

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For Lowry collectors, it contained the essential elements for a high-end work: an industrial landscape and plenty of matchstick men engaged in busy activity.

The sum is a healthy return for the vendors – US-based collectors Neil and Gina Smith – who shelled out £282,000 for the picture at Sotheby’s in 1996, an auction high for the artist at the time. Since then, Lowry’s auction record has been set and reset many times. It currently stands at £5m for another sport-themed work, The Football Match (1949).

Lowry, who was more of a football fan, turned his paintbrush to depicting cricket matches on just a handful of occasions. Of those that have appeared at auction, the closest comparison is A Cricket Match (1952), which sold at Christie’s a decade ago for £769,250 (with fees).

Guaranteed to sell

Other top-selling highlights at Sotheby’s included two works by Henry Moore and St Ives School painter Ben Nicholson (1894-1982). Both had irrevocable bids on them and thus were guaranteed to sell.

Moore’s Second World War drawing, Shelter Drawing: Seated Mother and Child (1941), sold to a private buyer in North America for a mid-estimate £700,000 – a high price for one of his shelter-themed drawings at auction. The 11 x 8¼in (27 x 21cm) mixed-media work had previously featured in the artist’s major retrospective at Tate Britain in 2010, selling at Bonhams a year later for £634,850 (with fees).

Sotheby’s described it as “one of the most tender and worked drawings Moore created during the Second World War… displaying the hope and humanity that drove the defiant home front”.

Making its auction debut, Nicholson’s Still Life (Speckled) March 18 – 49 sold in line with expectations to a European private buyer for £520,000.

The table-top still-life, presented on a small 17 x 17¼in (43 x 44cm) canvas, was created in the late 1940s, just before Nicholson’s move to a larger Cornish studio prompted the beginning of his monumental still-life works.

Sotheby’s set an auction record for fellow Modernist John Wells (1907- 2000), a doctor turned painter who was encouraged to join the first group of St Ives artists by Nicholson and Naum Gabo – but whose prices on the secondary market are modest in comparison.

Homage to Naum Gabo (1948), an abstract 16 x 20in (41 x 51cm) oil on canvas inspired by Gabo’s constructionist sculptures, sold within estimate for £49,000. With premium added, the price is the highest at auction, above the £60,000 Blue Oval (1946), paid at Christie’s London last year. It was one of six abstracts by Wells consigned from a private London collection.