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Going to the Match

Going to the Match
signed and dated 'L.S. LOWRY 1953' (lower right)
oil on canvas
28 x 36 in. (71 x 91.5 cm.)
Painted in 1953.
with Alex Reid & Lefevre, London, where purchased by Hervey Rhodes, Baron Rhodes of Saddleworth, K.G., D.F.C., P.C., D.L., on 6 November 1953.
with Lefevre Gallery, London, where purchased by Tommy Steele on 9 March 1976.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby’s, London, 1 December 1999, lot 40, where purchased by the present owner.
Exhibition catalogue, Memorial Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by L.S. Lowry R.A., London, Lefevre Gallery, 1976, pp. 7, 28, no. 17, illustrated, also on the front cover.
Exhibition catalogue, L.S. Lowry R.A. 1887-1976, London, Royal Academy, 1976, pp. 79-80, no. 198, illustrated.
M. Levy, The Paintings of L.S. Lowry, London, 1978, n.p., pl. 63, as 'Football Ground'.
D. McLean, L.S. Lowry, London, 1978, p. 13, illustrated.
S. Rohde, A Private View of L.S. Lowry, London, 1987, pp. 107, 229, 233, 271.
S. Rohde, L.S. Lowry: a biography, Salford, 1999, pp. 343, 349-350, 409, illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, Lowry's People, Salford, The Lowry, 2000, p. 3, exhibition not numbered, illustrated.
S. Rohde, The Lowry Lexicon: An A-Z of L.S. Lowry, Salford, 2001, n.p., illustrated.
A. Kalman and A. Lambirth, L.S. Lowry: Conversation Pieces, London, 2003, pp. 114-115, illustrated.
'Burton Lowry for Sale', Burton Mail, 11 May 2004, n.p., illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, The Art of White, Salford, The Lowry, 2005, pp. 83, 93, exhibition not numbered, illustrated.
T.G. Rosenthal, L.S. Lowry: The Art and the Artist, Norwich, 2010, pp. 133, 135, 186-187, illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life, London, Tate Britain, 2013, pp. 108-109, 218, exhibition not numbered, fig. 53.
London, Arts Council of Great Britain and the Football Association, Football, 1953, no. 49 (awarded first prize).
Manchester, City Art Gallery, L.S. Lowry: Retrospective Exhibition, June - July 1959, no. 56.
Sheffield, Graves Art Gallery, L.S. Lowry: Paintings and Drawings, September - October 1962, no. 65.
Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, L.S. Lowry, April - June 1973, no. 57.
London, Lefevre Gallery, Memorial Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by L.S. Lowry R.A., May - July 1976, no. 17.
London, Royal Academy, L.S. Lowry R.A. 1887-1976, September - November 1976, no. 198.
Salford, The Lowry, Lowry's People, April - September 2000, exhibition not numbered.
Salford, The Lowry, The Art of White, November 2005 - April 2006, exhibition not numbered.
London, Tate Britain, Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life, June - October 2013, exhibition not numbered.
Salford, The Lowry, on long term loan, 2000 - 2022.
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Angus Granlund
Angus Granlund Director, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Painted in 1953, Going to the Match is probably the best-known and most-loved of all L.S. Lowry’s paintings. For many years it has hung on loan to The Lowry in Salford and in 2013, it was used as the lead-in image for Lowry’s retrospective at the Tate. Created for a 1953 exhibition sponsored by the Football Association, where it also won Lowry his first ever prize, the painting is a poignant combination of the two most enduringly popular subjects of his art: the post-Industrial landscape of Northern England and the central role that football and other sporting events played there.

Going to the Match is the largest and the finest of a comparatively rare group of much-loved paintings that Lowry made dedicated to the theme of sport in the industrial cities of the North and of the working man at play. It is also a pictorial manifestation of the universal appeal and allure of ‘the beautiful game’ of football itself. This is because, despite originally carrying the title, ‘The Football Match’, Going to the Match is a picture of a vast, urban industrial scene taken over by the inexorable collective movement of a huge crowd congregating, from all directions of the city, upon a single point: the lone, imposing and austere structure of a football stadium. The site of the football match itself – the event responsible for the drawing of such a crowd – remains unseen.

As is also evident in Going to the Match, the crowds at a football match also intrigued Lowry as much as the spectacle of the game itself. Lowry was a keen follower and spectator of football all his life. He supported his local club, Manchester City, and as a youth had been encouraged to play the game by his father, who trained a junior team. Lowry himself, however, and despite his best efforts, never made the grade. Association football (soccer), Rugby League football and Cricket (especially the county matches between Yorkshire and Lancashire) are the three sports that formed the backbone of the working man’s week-end in the North-West throughout much of the 20th Century. It is also, as such, that these sports appear in Lowry’s paintings. For much of this period, factory workers were working a five-and-a-half-day week. They would get off work at midday on a Saturday and immediately head off to the pub for an hour or so before then proceeding to watch the local match. Going to the Match depicts just such a scene taking place outside the legendary Bolton Wanderers football ground at Burnden Park, not far from Lowry’s home on the outskirts of Manchester in Pendlebury.

Only two major 20th century artists ever seem to have depicted the game of soccer with any frequency and with any consideration for the unique nature of the game itself. These were the Russian-born painter Nicolas de Staël, who made a brief but important sequence of semiabstract depictions of football being played after a revelatory night in 1952 when he was struck by the vivid display of colour, pattern and bodily rhythm at a floodlight international in the Parc des Princes, and L.S. Lowry.
As in Going to the Match, Lowry, unlike de Staël, seldom painted the vibrant spectacle of the game of football itself, but instead tended to portray the effect of the game and its position within the wider context of the social and cultural landscape within which it was being played. Lowry’s football paintings tend to present the game of football as a key component of what he defined as the central subject of all his art: ‘the Industrial scene’. Even when Lowry did actually depict a football match taking place, as in his 1949 painting The Football Match for example, the game itself was almost always rendered as only a small and often incidental part of a wider, industrial landscape. As with his depiction of crowds, it was essentially the intrinsic relationship between his distinctly idiosyncratic figures, (always isolated and distinguished against a white ground) and their physical response to the environment that they inhabited, that caught and interested Lowry’s eye.

Lowry himself maintained, for example, that there was something distinctive about a football crowd that remained unchanged by the passage of time. ‘I maintain, from observation,’ he noted, ‘that if you see a crowd of people coming from a football match, they look exactly the same as they did fifty years ago. I’m convinced of that’ (L.S. Lowry quoted in J. Spalding and M. Leber, Lowry’s City: A Painter and his Locale, Salford, 2000, p. 31). He also is known to have once startled the critic Mervyn Levy after hearing a roar from a football crowd inside a stadium by remarking, soon afterwards:’ They’ve lost you know - you can tell’ (L.S. Lowry quoted in S. Rhode, L.S. Lowry: A Biography, Salford, 1979, p. 350).

Lowry’s paintings are not realist pictures but visionary ones. They are distilled and timeless essences derived from visions and memories of a specific time and place. The landscapes against which his figures are set, though often recognisable as embodiments of the industrial architecture of Salford, Manchester or, as in Going to the Match, Bolton, are often not accurate depictions of specific buildings or locations. In Going to the Match, for instance, it is only the football ground itself that is easily identifiable as Burnden Park. The industrial landscape to the right of the painting is a generic portrait of nowhere in particular, even though its buildings have been recognised as being architecturally closer to that of Bolton than of Manchester. Lowry’s vision is, in this respect again close to that of the equally visionary humanistic landscapes of Pieter Bruegel. When asked about this similarity, Lowry replied simply that such an observation was only ‘common sense. [Bruegel] did the industrial scene as he knew it in his day and I did it in my day, so it is natural that critics make comparisons between his work and mine. It jumps to the eyes. When he was alive he saw the industrial scene around him and he did it. Now four hundred years later I saw the industrial scene around me and I did it. And with him, people said, ‘what are you doing these things for? Nobody wants pictures like this!’ and funnily enough they have said the same thing to me’ (L.S. Lowry quoted in ibid, p. 168).

Although they are often invented scenes aimed at embodying the spirit and essence of what they depict, Lowry’s paintings are, nevertheless, as the critic John Berger pointed out, uniquely English and wholly specific to Northern England. ‘They could’ as Berger wrote, ‘be about nowhere else. Nowhere else are there comparable industrial landscapes. The light, which is not natural but which was manufactured in the nineteenth century, is unique. Only in the Midlands and the North of England do people live – to use Sir Kenneth Clark’s euphemism – in such a milky pool. The character of [Lowry’s] figures and crowds is also specially English. The industrial revolution has isolated them and uprooted them. Their home-made ideology, except when they are led and organised by revolutionaries, is a kind of ironic stoicism. Nowhere else do crowds look so simultaneously civic and deprived. They appear to have as little to lose as a mob: and yet they are not a mob. They know each other, recognise each other, exchange help and jokes – they are not, as is sometimes said, like lost souls in limbo: they are fellow-travellers through a life which is impervious to most of their choices’ (J. Berger, ‘Lowry and the Industrial North’, About Looking, London, 1980, pp. 90-91).

In Going to the Match this near-heroic struggle against adversity, common to so many of Lowry’s figure-paintings, is subtly articulated by the artist’s introduction of an adverse wind shown blowing against the multitude of fans heading from the city at the right towards the Burnden Park stadium. Through the introduction of a single red pennant blowing fiercely atop the stadium towards the right of the picture and the collective image of hundreds of figures at the right seen leaning in against this wind, Lowry is able to emphasise the force and the allure that the game has for these people. The wind bestows Lowry’s crowd with a common sense of struggle and purpose that helps to convey the social power of football and its importance in the lives of the city’s ant-like inhabitants.

As Tom Rosenthal wrote about this painting, this distinctly social aspect of Going to the Match may well derive from the picture having been painted in direct conjunction with a commission that Lowry also received in 1953 to paint an image of the Queen’s Coronation. Lowry’s resultant painting of crowds congregating outside Buckingham Palace to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (Coronation: The Procession Passing Queen Victoria Memorial, 1953) could not be more different. In this painting which subsequently spent much of its life on display in the British Embassy in Moscow, the raincoat-clad crowd is presented as a distinctly dreary augmentation to the rich colour and splendour of the Queen’s carriage procession seen coming out of Buckingham Palace. In Going to the Match, Lowry presents a crowd-scene that is effectively the opposite. As Rosenthal has written, ‘although Lowry did not set out in Going to the Match to paint an historical scene, I suspect that he was, at least, in juxtaposition with his Coronation picture, making a generalised point about the place of the common man and how his mid-20th century brand of bread and circuses meant so much to him and why and how it brought some colour and joy into an essentially drab existence’ (T.G. Rosenthal, L.S. Lowry: The Art and the Artist, Norwich, 2010, pp. 135).

That this was Lowry’s aim is also supported by a rare preparatory sketch for the painting and of the Burnden Park ground that Lowry made laying out the essential components of the Going to the Match’s composition. In addition to a detailed study of the forbidding and austere architecture of the stadium itself, the main elements of concern to Lowry on display in this sketch are the patterns and displacement of the crowd around it. In particular, Lowry here outlines how they struggle towards the building and then align themselves in neat queues around each of its turnstiles. Indeed, perhaps most prominent in this sketch are the outsize costs of admission that Lowry has recorded alongside each turnstile in an enlarged manner that also translates over to the finished painting. Such overt emphasis on the price of admission also seems to stress the social importance of the game for a largely proletarian audience often reluctant to part with their hard-won earnings. Going to the Match is therefore as significant as a social document about the history of football and life in the North of England as it is as one of Lowry’s finest and best-loved creations.

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