Wednesday 18 September 2019

Treasures: When Lowry came to Dublin City

Ireland's fine arts, antiques and collectables column

LS Lowry used only five colours: vermilion, ivory black, Prussian blue, yellow ochre, and flake white
LS Lowry used only five colours: vermilion, ivory black, Prussian blue, yellow ochre, and flake white
LS Lowry's West Dublin sketch
Anthony Scott's magestic Bull

Why do people love Lowry so much? And why did Lowry love Dublin and Ireland so much? One of his very rare Irish themed paintings has just been placed for sale at a coming auction and is expected to make around €30k.

Lowry watercolours are as rare as hen's teeth.

So too are the artworks that he made in Ireland and the big news is that one of these is included in a forthcoming sale at Bonhams next month. It's a drawing in pencil, felt tip pen and biro, signed and dated "LS Lowry 1969" and titled W Dublin (est. €23,000 to €34,000). It shows a building with figures in front of it and, if the building doesn't look like any that West Dublin has ever known, this is not atypical for Lowry.

"A lot of the buildings that he painted were part-fantasy," Matthew Bradbury of Bonhams explains. Still, you'd love to know the background story to this one.

He absolutely loved Ireland. Lowry's great grandfather, Jacob Lowry, was a bootmaker from Belfast and Lowry was proud of his Irish roots.

"Ireland was the only place he ever travelled to," says Bradbury. He quotes Lowry's travelling companion, Pat Cooke: "He adored Ireland from the very first moment; he was enthusing as we came into Dun Laoghaire, standing on the prow of the boat as he had all through the journey, with his hat plonked on his head and the brim rippling in the wind like a wave. And he didn't stop enthusing the whole week. He loved the buildings, the individual eccentricity of people and places."

While it's possible that valuable Lowry sketches are lurking undiscovered in Irish attics, it's not that likely. His work is famous and very recognisable. It's also widely faked and, if you bring a Lowry painting to be valued, expect to be asked some searching questions. "If it doesn't have convincing provenance we may have to turn it away," Bradbury says. Prints by Lowry also do well at auction and these do turn up in Ireland. "We've been extremely successful with Lowry over the past while with a signed print in early 2017 making a hammer price of €4,600 and another recently making €2,400," says Ross Ó Súilleabhain of Herman & Wilkinson.

In 2011, his painting of Piccadilly Circus (1960) sold at Christie's for £5,641,250 (around €6,444,581 at today's exchange rate). A Lowry painting of The Football Match had sold earlier the same year, also at Christie's, for an almost identical price.

Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976) was born and raised in Manchester. He left school at the age of 16. In his early twenties, he took a job as a rent collector for the Pall Mall Property Company where he worked until he retired at the age of 65. He famously used only five colours: vermilion, ivory black, Prussian blue, yellow ochre, and flake white.

There are 12 works by Lowry coming up in Bonhams' auction of Modern British and Irish Art, which takes place in London on June 13. They include a 1959 oil painting, The Red Bridge (est. €230,000 to €340,000), and Outside the Mill, a rare watercolour dating from the mid-1970s (est. €80,000 to €110,000).

While the establishment was indifferent, the music world adored him. 'Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs' (1978) was a catchy earwig of a song about Lowry by Brian and Michael. Ten years earlier, Status Quo's hit single 'Pictures of Matchstick Men' (1968) was also a Lowry tribute. He's been covered (well) by The Divine Comedy (2001) and (less well) by Kasabian in 2006. His artwork inspired Oasis' 'The Masterplan' video in 2011. In 2013, he popped up again, this time in the chorus of the Manic Street Preachers' song, '30-Year War': "So you hide all Lowry's paintings / For 30 years or more / 'Cos he turned down a knighthood/ And you must now settle the score." True story. Lowry turned down a total of five honours, including an OBE in 1955, a CBE in 1961, and a knighthood in 1968. He currently holds the record for turning down British honours.

By this stage, the British art establishment has stopped looking down its nose at Lowry. Earlier in his career, the snobbery was rife. "The Times was disparaging about him for a long time," says Matthew Bradbury of Bonhams. "And Manchester City Art Gallery was very late getting in on the game. I think they saw him as a naïve artist. A painting-by-numbers guy."

See and

In the Salerooms


They call him "the poor man's Paul Henry". Douglas Alexander was born into a wealthy Limerick family in 1871, painted gentle pictures of the West of Ireland in oil and watercolour, and died in penury in 1945. "It's not altogether fair to describe him simply in these terms but with the paintings on offer it is understandable where it came from," says James O'Halloran of Adam's.

There are four works by Alexander in the sale of Important Irish Art that takes place at Adam's on Wednesday, with modest estimates of between €1,000 and €1,500. The sale also includes a couple of real Paul Henry paintings: A Bog Pool in Wicklow (est. €40,000 to €60,000); and Portrait of a Lady (est. €6,000 to €8,000). The highlight is an oil painting by Walter Frederick Osborne entitled Counting the Flock (est. €100,000 to €150,000. The auction begins at 6pm and viewing begins today,


"Clarissa drew her scissors from the case, to draw the lines of poor Dan Jackson's Face. One sloping line cut forehead, nose and chin, a nick produced a mouth and made him grin."

That's from the Miscellanies of Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels.

In time, he too fell victim to the art of cutting paper. There's a rare portrait of Swift (c.1774), in white cut paper against black, going under the hammer in Mealy's Summer Sale by Nathaniel Bermingham and estimated to sell for between €3,500 and €5,500. The auction takes place in Mealy's Castlecomer Saleroom on Tuesday and Wednesday, beginning at 11am on both days. Viewing is on Sunday and Monday. See


Anthony Scott's magestic Bull

Jack B Yeats' Morning Glory (est. €80,000 to €120,000) leads the way at Whyte's auction of Important Irish Art which takes place Monday at the RDS, Ballsbridge, beginning at 6pm. The sale ranges from works by Paul Henry, William Conor, Daniel O'Neill, and Louis le Brocquy, to a watercolour Bog Landscape with Turf Stacks (€6,000 to €8,000) by William Percy French in its original pokerwork frame with Celtic interlaced knot design. Sculpture in the sale includes Anthony Scott's majestic Bull (est. €3,000 to €5,000, above), one in an edition of six. The works will be on view at the RDS Anglesea Road entrance, Ballsbridge, tomorrow to Monday from 10am to 6pm daily,

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