“‘Going to the Match’ is among the earliest known, if not the earliest, depiction of one of L.S. Lowry’s most iconic and timeless subjects — that of spectators thronging to a sporting occasion,” said Sotheby’s in a statement.
Lowry is renowned for his images of crowds at football matches, using his celebrated style of “matchstick” people against a monochrome palette backdrop to illustrate northern England’s cold and grey.
In 2011, Lowry’s 1949 painting “The Football Match” sold for £5.6 million ($9 million), while another work, 1953’s “Football Ground” was bought by the UK’s Professional Footballers’ Association for £1.9 million ($2.9 million) in 1999.
“Going to the Match” is one of only a small handful of paintings by Lowry relating to the sport of rugby league, which has a strong supporter base in the north of England.
In August 1895, 22 clubs me to form the Northern Rugby League and break away from the sport of rugby union, enabling working class players to be compensated for wages lost when playing.
“The red flag seen flying by the ground, as well as the red scarves worn by several of the crowd members, hints at the Salford Red Devils — Lowry’s local team,” said Sotheby’s.
Exhibited only once before in 1966, the painting has remained in the same family collection since 1972, and will be shown to the public in New York, Edinburgh and Dublin before being auctioned in London on June 29.
‘People think crowds are all the same’
In a conversation with art critic Edwin Mullins, according to Sotheby’s, Lowry said, “People think crowds are all the same. But they’re not, you know. Everyone’s different. Look! That man’s got a twitch. He’s got a limp. He’s had too much beer. It’s wonderful isn’t it.”
While working as a rent collector, Lowry attended art school part-time for 13 years.
“Going to the Match” was painted in the same year — 1928 — that a then 41-year-old Lowry finished his part-time art school education stint.
“Lowry was the ultimate onlooker,” said Frances Christie, Deputy Chairman of Sotheby’s UK & Ireland. “In his compositions focusing on sporting subjects, it is the crowd that fascinated him above all else.
“Not only is this likely to be the earliest sports related picture Lowry painted, but it is also one of his very first depictions of a mass of people going to and from anywhere.
“In this phenomenal painting, the figures lean forward in unison, emphasising their common purpose in being drawn to the rugby posts clearly visible on the left-hand side of the canvas.
“The pre-match sense of energy, excitement and anticipation is palpable and will resonate with any sports lover today, almost 100 years after it was painted.”
Lowry died in 1976 at the age of 88.