One of Britain's most beloved artists, #lslowry and his works have been a mainstay at auctions for decades. What is lesser known is that he once turned his hand to painting an auction taking place, resulting in a bustling scene characteristic of the artist. Populated by familiar characters, and even a dog on a lead, The Auction transports the viewer into the centre of the action, with the auctioneer on the rostrum poised to bring the gavel down.
Executed on a large-scale in 1958, the work had never been offered at auction, and was acquired by the previous owners over two decades ago. Today, it sold for £2,556,000 / $3,438,842, exceeding its pre-sale estimate of £1.2-1.8 million, as part of Sotheby's ongoing Modern British Art auction in #london.
Lowry only ever painted a small handful of interior scenes – intimate family groups, a doctor's surgery, an election rally and an outpatients' hall – in each instance choosing subjects that resonated with him. As early as the 1920s, Lowry touched on the subject of auctions with a drawing titled Selling Up the Old Antiques Shop. Another painting, Jackson's Auction and Saleroom from 1952, depicts the exterior of the auction house in Manchester, with furniture amassed outside. In The Auction, this longstanding interest comes to its apex, and the viewer is shown the full glory of a sale in action for the first and only time. Paintings are stacked high and cabinets are busy being viewed, and through the hustle and bustle and rows of attendees, the auctioneer is elevated and about to seal the sale – a moment that would cause emotions from joy to disappointment for the buyer, underbidder or seller. There is a distinct sense of drama unfolding on a stage, which no doubt appealed to Lowry, who enjoyed many visits to the theatre.
Surveying the boisterous scene gives an insight into how auctions have evolved over time. From the mid-20th century onwards, the high-profile sales of prestigious collections became increasingly social events – host to a rich cast of characters that would no doubt have intrigued Lowry as a great British chronicler of contemporary life. With this work, Lowry joins a select group of artists who have tackled the subject, from the great English satirists such as William Hogarth and Thomas Rowlandson, through to Bansky today. Its date falls in the same year as Sotheby's landmark auction of the Goldschmidt collection, which saw crowds gather down New Bond Street. Presented as a black-tie gala and heralding the 'Evening Sale' format, the Goldschmidt sale was the first auction of its kind and so attracted extensive public interest and newspaper headlines the following day.
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