UK art centre saves Lowry’s football painting from falling into private hands—and makes artist’s auction record

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One of L.S. Lowry’s most important works has been bought at auction by The Lowry, a theatre and gallery complex in Salford, named after the painter. Going to the Match (1953) sold for £7.8m at Christie’s London (with fees), achieving the top end of the estimate (£5m-£8m, all estimates are calculated without fees). This set a new auction record for the artist, which previously stood at £5.6m, paid for The Football Match (1948) in 2011.

Julia Fawcett, chief executive of The Lowry, says in a statement: “Thanks to an incredibly generous gift from The Law Family Charitable Foundation, we are delighted to have purchased Going to the Match (1953) for the city’s collection of L.S. Lowry works.” The foundation was set up by the hedge fund manager Andrew Law and his wife Zoë.

Lowry spent much of his life in Salford and his work is strongly associated with the city. The Mayor of Salford, Paul Dennett, told the BBC prior to the sale that the new owner of the work must keep it “free to access”. Going to the Match was painted for an exhibition in 1953, sponsored by The Football Association, where Lowry won first prize.

The work, which shows football fans flocking to the turnstiles at Burnden Park—the former home of Bolton Wanderers—has been on display at The Lowry for 22 years after it was bought in 1999 by the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA). Proceeds from the sale go towards the Players Foundation, the charity aiding former football players that consigned the painting.

The PFA, encompassing the Players Foundation, received an official warning following an inquiry into multiple concerns around mismanagement between 2013 and 2019, including an alleged “failure to ensure its assets were being used in the most appropriate way”. The regulator has acknowledged steps to remedy the failings have since been made.

Out of 29 lots offered at the Modern British and Irish Art auction, 27 were sold with 93% sold by lot and 94% sold by value. Christie’s says there were registered bidders from 11 countries participating in the sale. Some works fell squarely within estimate: Ben Nicholson’s 1968 (Delos 2) fetched £541,800 (est £400,000-£600,000) while another painting by Lowry, Unemployed (1937), achieved £1.2m (est £1m-£1.5m). Bridget Riley’s Painting with Two Verticals 3 (2005) sold for £1.2m (est £1.2m-£1.8m). Notable successes include Frank Auerbach’s 1986 work, J.Y.M. Seated, which went above estimate at £1.2m (est £600,000-£900,000).

Another significant Lowry work, Street Scene (1941), has been consigned to Bonhams in London for its Modern British and Irish Art sale on 22 November. The painting, which has been in the same family for almost 50 years, is estimated at £800,000-£1.2m.

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