An early LS Lowry (1887-1976) pencil sketch that had last sold at auction back in 1991 showed the extent the market has expanded over the last three decades when it reappeared at a recent sale in North Yorkshire.
Offered at Tennants’ (22% buyer’s premium) latest Modern & Contemporary Art auction on March 4, The Stepped Street dated from 1929, the year after Lowry left art school.
He had attended the evening classes while working as a rent collector which, famously, remained his day job right up until he retired in 1952.
The 15 x 10¾in (38 x 28cm) pencil drawing in Leyburn was signed and dated.
It depicted Crowther Street in Salford and was one of the drawings Lowry made of locally threatened architectural sites (the first of which he made after Lowry’s father suggested he sketch the nearby St Simon’s Church which was razed to the ground a few days later).
Indeed, Crowther Street itself was later partially demolished, leaving only the right-hand portion seen in the drawing remaining.
The drawing had previously sold for £4600 at Phillips in 1991. With the market having moved on considerably in the intervening period, here at Tennants it had a £50,000-80,000 estimate.
With plenty of factors in its favour commercially, including the known location, the date of the work and the presence of plenty of Lowry’s signature motifs such as dogs, children, prams and smoking chimneys, as well as a good number of figures, it drew interest from a number of bidders.
It was eventually knocked down at £70,000 to a private buyer from the north of England.
Also bringing competition at Tennants, a later Lowry drawing from 1965 of a bleak seascape took £25,000 against a £12,000-18,000 pitch.
It sold to a different north of England private buyer.
Simply titled The Sea, it depicted the same stretch of the North Sea viewed from the Seaburn Hotel, Sunderland, as an oil painting from a year later that fetched a hefty £840,000 at the Leyburn saleroom back in October.
From the early 1940s, Lowry embarked on a series of large-scale canvases far removed from his familiar bustling industrial streets scenes.
They depicted nothing but sea and sky. He wrote: “I started to paint the sea, nothing but the sea. But a sea with no shore and nobody sailing on it…. Look at my seascapes, they don’t really exist you know, they’re just an expression of my own loneliness.”
Lowry always stayed in the same room at the hotel.
The smaller sketch here measured 9¾ x 12½in (25cm x 34cm) and had provenance to Newcastle’s The Stone Gallery.
A similar pencil study from the same year, factionally larger, made £38,000 at Sotheby’s in 2015.
Elsewhere at Tennants, a selection of works by Canadian artists was led by a watercolour by Paul-Émile Borduas (1905-60). The artist was the founder of the Automatists group in Quebec which attempted to developed a non-figurative form of representing the unconsciousness in art.
Titled Danse Irrégulière, the signed picture here dated from 1954 and measured 10½ x 13¾in (27 x 35cm).
It had previously sold for just £400 at a Bonhams and Langlois sale in Jersey back in 2000.
But Borduas is another artist whose market has grown over recent decades and this time around, estimated at £6000-8000, it attracted plenty of interest from his homeland.
It was knocked down at £10,000 to a private Canadian buyer, a decent sum for a watercolour of this size.