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Bonhams re-draw record for Lowry pencil drawings in £4.8 million sale in London
Matthew Bradbury commenting after the sale: “We are truly delighted with today’s result, which is a significant improvement on the performance of this market last year. The sale signals new and robust confidence in Modern British and Irish art, which continues a long standing trajectory of growing strength and collectability of leading artists in this field. We look forward to our next sale in November.” Photo: Bonhams.
LONDON.- Bonhams broke the world auction record yesterday for L.S. Lowry pencil drawings when his work titled ‘Agecroft Regatta’ fetched a total of £211,250 as part of the May 29th British and Irish Sale. The previous record was £121,250 for ‘Swinbury Station’, set in these salerooms in November 2011. In a packed room, the 9 Lowry drawings made over half a million pounds in a sale of 112 lots which made £4.8 million.

Other works which attracted bidders were Stanley Spencer’s stunning ‘Garden Path’ which made £769,250 as well as Lucian Freud’s ‘Oil-bound Puffin’ which realised £385,250. Ben Nicholson’s ‘Composition’ exceeded all expectation when it surprised the saleroom by fetching £199,250. Lawrence Holofcener’s ‘Allies’ also performed, making £217,250, while David Hockney’s ‘Love Painting’ realised £97,250.

Matthew Bradbury commenting after the sale: “We are truly delighted with today’s result, which is a significant improvement on the performance of this market last year. The sale signals new and robust confidence in Modern British and Irish art, which continues a long standing trajectory of growing strength and collectability of leading artists in this field. We look forward to our next sale in November.”

Lowry’s ‘Agecroft Regatta’, his record-breaking pencil work on paper depicts the annual northern sporting spectacle, between Agecroft Rowing Club and the Manchester University Boat Club, which attracted large crowds of people. The Rowing Club was founded in 1861 by Ishmael Lythgoe and was considered a contemporary social venue for like minded individuals who enjoyed the pastime of rowing. The boat club, which was built in 1935 can be seen in the upper left hand quadrant of the drawing with its flag flying in the breeze. It is the most fully realised pencil drawing of the regatta by Lowry and only one other example is known to exist, along with the impressive oil painting ‘The Regatta’.

Lowry’s depiction of an Organ-Grinder also performed exceptionally well, achieving £151,000, making it his second most expensive pencil drawing. Lowry’s ‘Organ Grinder’ is one of his most well-known images and portrays an organ grinder as he parades around a bustling street scene, entertaining a large crowd of people. The work is considered one of Lowry’s most important pre-war pencil drawings, and the oil painting based on it hangs in the prized collection of Manchester City Gallery. Lowry was so satisfied with the present drawing, that he hardly made any changes to it when he transferred the image into paint. The work was acquired directly from the artist by the father of the present owner circa 1946.

George Orwell writes about the Organ Grinder’s trade, a year before the record-breaking image was conceived: “To ask outright for money is a crime, yet it is perfectly legal to annoy one’s fellow citizens by pretending to entertain them. Their dreadful music is the result of a purely mechanical gesture, and is only intended to keep them on the right side of the law”. While Orwell perceived the organ-player in a critical light, Lowry presents the man sympathetically. In this work, he is indistinguishable from the flurry of walking figures presented in the foreground. Lowry humanises the beggar musician, affording him a certain mysterious beauty.

STRONG IRISH PRESENCE
Bonhams also saw a strong Irish presence in the sale, with works by Sir John Lavery and Frederick Edward McWilliam performing well. The highlight in the Irish works was lot 66, a sculpture by Frederick Edward McWilliam (1909-1992), titled ‘Mother and Child’, in terracotta. Standing 45.6 cm. (18 in.) high and conceived in 1946 it was estimated to sell for £15,000-20,000 but at £87,650 made more than four times the high estimate. The work was acquired directly from the artist by the present owner's mother in the 1950s.

John Lavery’s ‘The New Moon, Moonrise’ which was estimated to sell for £70,000-100,000 made £181,250. The work depicts the artist’s wife Hazel as she gingerly picks her way over rocks covered in seaweed. She is dressed in a white, three-quarter-length tropical coat that habitually accompanied her seaside sojourns on the North African coast. In a moment she will stop, raise her head, and scan a horizon broken only by a tiny sail, far off to the right. Facing her in the distance, barely visible, is a faint coastline, above which the new moon is rising.

For the painter, John Lavery, this was a familiar scene. His house stood on the cliff-top overlooking this particular beach and from the heights he had often painted the rocks stretching out into the bay in full sunlight and at dusk, on calm and rough days. The sea, in all its moods and colours fascinated him - a single continuous plane stretching to the horizon, its shimmering surface reflected the sky in pools of opal and azure, and studies looking down from the cliff-top are invariably distinguished by high horizons. There were also occasions like this, when, in the cool of the evening he took his easel down onto the beach and worked under moonlight, giving more prominence to the delicate hazy blues of the sky. When shown as a group in 1908 these studies were praised as 'charming and original works ... in which the romantic element is prominent'.



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