A 1950 work by LS Lowry has sold at auction in London for a record £1.7 million.
Father and Two Sons, a striking three-part portrait by the celebrated artist, came to the market from the vaults of Manchester-born collector Frank Cohen after 20 years in private hands.
It’s the most anyone has ever paid for a Lowry portrait.
At Sotheby’s Modern & Post-War British art sale, the 30x40in oil on canvas, described as “a great work of art…universal and timeless”.
It’s thought the men depicted in the painting are partial self-portraits of the artist, recalling his 1938 work Head of a Man, which was finished around the time of Lowry’s mother’s death.
Lowry’s work has been the subject of national acclaim ever since a permanent gallery dedicated to his work was installed at Salford’s Lowry Theatre when it opened in 2000.
But a Tate London show in 2013 smashed the patronising preconception that Lowry was only a northern industrial painter.
His works are now changing hands for incredible sums.
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Father and Two Sons was bought from Lowry by the Stockport-based businessman Monty Bloom, a key parton of the artist.
Frank Cohen, described as ‘the Saatchi of the north’ bought it for “a lot of money” in 1999.
According to Cohen, Lowry should be ranked alongside some of the country’s greatest ever painters, including Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud
The strangeness of Father and Two Sons, the loneliness and isolation of the characters – this the artist would make his main theme in the last 15 years of his life before his death in 1976.
Frances Christie, Sotheby’s Head of Modern & Post-War British art, said: “This is a painting about memory and experience, the past and the present.
“These are very much Salford men, from the streets, factories and pubs of Manchester’s twin city across the River Irwell…stripped of pride and hope and turning in ever-decreasing circles of low wages and low expectations.
“This work contains more than a nod to Walter Greenwood’s hugely influential novel, Love on the Dole (1933), set in Hanky Park, a slum in Salford a little further down the social scale to Pendlebury.
“Both the sons in Lowry’s painting could be Harry Hardcastle, younger brother of the novel’s heroine Sally, who quits his low-paid job at a pawnbroker’s – a good ‘white collar’ job that offers escape – to join the apprentices in the local factory, for the glamour of an extra shilling or two in his pocket, cigarettes and beer and taking girls to the pictures on a Saturday night.
“Harry joins the ranks of the hollow-eyed, dejected long-term unemployed – alongside his father, who he despised for his lack of work.
“Its impact – carried most clearly in those mesmerising eyes, but given an aching finesse in the narrow slopes of their shoulders and the empty background whose vertical brushstrokes run like tears – is perhaps best described by literary comparison, for great literature too is both specific and timeless.
“Lowry’s Father and Two Sons, like all great works of art, is both highly specific to the time and place of its creation yet also universal and timeless, speaking across history to the wider human condition.”
Lowry’s 1949 landscape The Football Match still retains the record price for one of his works: it was sold in 2011 for £5.6m.