L.S. Lowry, A Fairground, Oil on canvas, Estimate: £700,000-1,000,000. © Sotheby's Images.
LONDON - Following the announcement last week of a newly-discovered fairground scene by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), it has now emerged that the scene depicted is not, in fact, Beswick Fair, nr Manchester, as had been mooted. Instead it is an extremely rare, and historically important, rendition of England’s biggest amusement park – Blackpool Pleasure Beach. This new and exciting information emerged after David Graham, a Blackpool-based journalist, came across stories of the discovery of the work in the national newspapers. The accompanying image looked familiar: “I was taken quite by surprise when I saw it. A double-take and I realised that, yes, this was something very familiar: the same Blackpool pleasure beach that I drive past every day. Much as I didn’t want to disappoint the residents of Beswick, where the scene was thought to be set, there was no way round it – this was Blackpool.”
Mr Graham was quick to recognise the architectural outlines of fairground rides that have not changed in some three quarters of a century: the distinctive Noah’s Ark attraction (one of only two left in the world); the tall, elegant art deco tower designed by Joseph Emberton at the start of the Grand National Ride, and Sir Hiram Maxim’s Flying Machine – the world’s oldest flying ride.
After careful consultation with representatives at the Blackpool Pleasure Beach – Mr Graham contacted Sotheby’s with the news. James Rawlin, Head of Sotheby’s 20th-century British department, was delighted: “When we first saw this painting, we thrilled to have found a work that was completely unknown. We weren’t sure where the fairground was (we were pursuing many possibilities, one of which was Beswick in Manchester), but it was important as a subject because fairground scenes are exceptionally rare in Lowry’s oeuvre. Now we have a second – and equally important discovery: it is Blackpool. This is a phenomenally important development: we think of Lowry as someone who captures the social history of his time and place, but this painting is also a vividly accurate historical document. It shows Blackpool Pleasure beach in the late 30s – at a time when its popularity was booming, attracting millions of British holidaymakers. Works of such topographical accuracy are extremely rare in Lowry’s oeuvre, as indeed are depictions of Blackpool: so far we’ve been unable to trace any important depictions of the city.”
At the time that Lowry painted A Fairground, in 1938, his life was difficult and relatively unhappy. That he should choose to paint a scene of merriment is therefore all the more poignant: he would often visit the coast around Blackpool, and the sight of people having fun at the fairground must have struck a sharp contrast with his own unhappy state. In choosing to record the scene, he has provided not only a fascinating record of Blackpool Pleasure Beach in the 1930s, but also an intriguing insight into how little has changed over the course 70 years.
Amanda Thompson, Pleasure Beach Managing Director, said:“L.S. Lowry is such a significant artist, and it’s fantastic that he not only visited Pleasure Beach but liked the park so much that he chose to include us in one of his wonderful paintings. I”ve always been a fan of Lowry so I was delighted when I saw the picture. We knew straight away that it was Pleasure Beach – Noah’s Ark, Sir Hiram Maxim’s Flying Machines, the Grand National and Big Dipper rides are all so prominent. My family and I are all very keen to see the painting before it goes under the hammer, as it’s such an amazing discovery. I hope it will bring someone a lot of happiness as Pleasure Beach itself does for so many visitors.”
The work will be sold at Sotheby’s in London on Thursday, December 13, 2007. It will be offered alongside another iconic painting by Lowry: The Football Match. Both pieces rank among the most important and accomplished works by the artist ever to have come to the market. With a combined pre-sale estimate of £1.7-2 million, the two pictures are instantly recognisable as Lowry compositions as they incorporate all of the signature elements of the artist’s greatest works. They cast him as an observer of humanity - in all its moods.
Lowry’s canvases have been at the forefront of the 20th-century British art market since the 1960s. Born in Manchester, Lowry was a curious character who was completely dedicated to his art. His drawings and paintings on the whole represent Salford and the surrounding areas - particularly Pendlebury - where Lowry lived and worked for well over 30 years. Famous for his scenes of daily life within the architectural framework of the industrial urban areas of northern England in the early part of the 20th century, his highly acclaimed canvases show chimneys, mills, church spires and back-to-back terraces alongside stylised figures and a lack of weather effects. From the earliest stages of his career, these panoramic industrial landscapes were at the heart of his work and they remain the images most frequently associated with him. Successful throughout his lifetime, Lowry was elected an R.A., his works were widely exhibited throughout Britain and he was appointed the official artist at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Furthermore, a stamp of one of his paintings was produced by the General Post Office and he was presented with an O.B.E., a C.B.E., a C.H. and a knighthood, all of which he refused.
A Fairground - A Fairground is a superb example of Lowry at his very best and the work has all of the crucial attributes of quality, fine condition and an impeccable, unbroken provenance. The charm of its subject matter - and its significance within Lowry’s artistic development - makes it one of his most important works ever to appear at auction. Painted in 1938, A Fairground has remained in the same private hands since it was purchased around 1950, having never been published. It therefore represents an exciting re-discovery after some 57 years away from the public eye. Furthermore, it signifies a new and momentous addition to the currently known body of work by the artist. The 1930s was a decade when Lowry honed his style into that which has made him one of Britain’s most collected artists.
With its colour, noise, movement, crowds, opportunity for incident and Victorian heritage, a fair might seem like a natural theme for Lowry to explore but rather surprisingly it is one that he captured only on a rare number of occasions. The fair always attracted huge crowds of people, a scene which would clearly have intrigued Lowry. A Fairground is expected to fetch £700,000-1,000,000.
The Football Match - The Football Match has all the qualities that have placed Lowry at the forefront of the 20th century British art market. The combination of the grand industrial setting and the human crowd around the football match make this a signature piece. It is a celebration of the place that football held in the heart of the ordinary working man at a time when the teams of the northwest dominated English football, with clubs like Manchester United, Bolton and Blackpool winning cups and titles year after year. Bringing together people and place, the picture truly encapsulates the golden age of football. Using just the merest of deft touches, Lowry fills the pitch with players whose varied states of animation contrast well with the densely packed crowds along the touchline. The sale of this work follows on from the success of Lowry’s evocative and atmospheric painting, Going to the Match, which was sold at Sotheby’s in 1999 for £1.9 million, an unprecedented price at the time. Purchased by the Football Association, whose spokesman was quoted as saying that the picture represented “the heart and soul of the game”.