In a clear case of life imitating art, a painting by LS Lowry depicting a packed auction house with the gavel about to come down on a sale is to be sold at Sotheby’s next month. It is estimated to reach up to £1.8m.
The Auction, a large-scale work completed in 1958, is one of only a handful of interior scenes by the Lancashire-born painter who became one of the UK’s most cherished artists.
The picture shows a bustling auction house thronged with people milling about or crammed onto benches. There are familiar characters from Lowry’s outdoor urban landscapes: a dog on a lead, an infant sitting up in a pram. Further back the auctioneer and his clerks are on a rostrum; at each side, paintings are stacked and furniture piled up ready for sale.
The painting “captures the buzz of an auction in a manner that only Lowry, with his distinctive iconography, could,” said Frances Christie, deputy chairman of Sotheby’s UK and Ireland.
Lowry, an avid collector of clocks and Pre-Raphaelite art, regularly attended auctions in Manchester and London. “He often kept track of his own pictures passing through Sotheby’s later in life, witnessing an appreciation for his work that formed a total contrast to the outset of his career when he struggled for recognition,” said Christie.
“The pleasing circularity of The Auction’s appearance at Sotheby’s would no doubt have satisfied Lowry’s wry sense of humour.”
Lowry, a modest man who declined honours including a knighthood, found success as an artist in his later years. Although he did not sell a single work at his first exhibition in 1921, his paintings featured at auction houses before his death at the age of 88 in 1876.
Charlie Minter, specialist in modern post-war art at Sotheby’s, said: “Lowry very rarely did interiors. We’re very familiar with his urban landscapes at factories and terrace houses, but this relates to his fascination with this aspect of the art world and the lives of people involved in buying and selling.
“As a social observer, he would have loved this scene, the theatre of an auction. It has the Lowry magic, it’s very buzzy, it’s like a snapshot of how auctions used to be. They are more formal and professional now.”
The record price for a Lowry is held by Piccadilly Circus, London, which sold for £5.6m in 2011.