Although the artist’s oils had been making hundreds of thousands for much of the 1990s, the winning bid of £1.75m by the PFA was a significant record at the time.
The purchase aroused the interest of serious investors and collectors who realised, despite the critics’ distaste for Lowry – the late Brian Sewell once described him as “an Eddie the Eagle of the arts” – there was money to be made in the artist’s industrial landscapes and matchstick men.
Since then, of course, Lowry has become a marquee name, a titan of the Modern British market. Sellers have enjoyed good returns as prices for Lowry’s original large-scale oils, drawings and signed prints have consistently risen.
Northern art specialist William Gregory, who worked at Manchester firm Capes Dunn for 10 years before joining Lincolnshire auction house Golding Young & Mawer (20% buyer’s premium), says, for him, the hike has been particularly dramatic for the artist’s signed prints.
When I started selling prints in Manchester in 1999 they were averaging around £500 at auction… now it is £4000
“When I started selling prints in Manchester in 1999 they were averaging around £500 at auction – with the exception of Going to the Match [the most expensive Lowry print]. Now they are averaging £4000.”
The number of limited editions released during Lowry’s lifetime that are now available has been affected by the fact that many have long since disappeared well before their owners realised their financial potential.
At GY&M a selection of works by the Salford artist, together with Northern art by names such as Geoffrey Key and William Ralph Turner, was offered as part of a wider sale of pictures on August 28.
Among them was Lowry’s print The Pond, a signed wintry scene of matchstick men and multiple factory chimneys puffing out smoke made in an edition of 850. Consigned from an “old client” with a 1970s invoice for £195, it was knocked down above estimate at £4600.
The outcome follows a string of similar results for other Lowry prints in the regions this summer, including a £5100 bid for Level Crossing – Burton on Trent, known simply as The Crossing, at East Yorkshire auction house Spicers, and the £4600 paid for a Britain at Play print in a Modern Design sale at Norfolk saleroom TW Gaze in July.
The Lincoln sale also featured two Lowry drawings consigned from a longstanding private client of Gregory from his days at Capes Dunn.
Kicking off the auction was Village mill with figures, a signed small 4 x 5in (10.5 x 13cm) work dotted with matchstick men originally purchased at Manchester gallery Henry Donn in 1982.
It later sold at Capes Dunn in October 2005 for £4200. Estimated at £6000-8000 in Lincoln, the work was knocked down for more than double its previous auction price at £8500.
A similar return was realised for a 5½ x 8in (14 x 20cm) sketch of figures in a park with buildings beyond, dated to 1943. It sold for £4600 at Capes Dunn in 2006 and made £8000 in Lincoln.
In all, the sale totalled a respectable £130,000 from 365 lots with a selling rate of 80%. Gregory said results for the saleroom’s fine art sales have been getting “stronger and stronger”, crediting much of their success to the combination of “new technology and old contacts”.
The sale was led by a small Archibald Thorburn (1860-1935) watercolour of grouse on a moor which had provenance to The Moorland Gallery in London.
Judging by the chalk numbers to the back, it had probably passed through an auction house or two and sold in Lincoln on bottom estimate for £9000.