L.S. Lowry’s sketch on a tissue paper serviette of the old handball court, in Nelson, Glamorgan, done by the artist in an idle moment probably in the café where he stopped for tea, sold for £8,680 (hammer £7,000) in a sale at leading Cheshire fine art auctioneers Peter Wilson.
The six-inch square napkin, which was dated November 6, 1961, was drawn probably on one of the several trips the Manchester artist made to South Wales in the 1960s. He had been introduced to South Wales by Ebbw Vale businessman Monty Bloom, who became the artist’s friend and one of his major patrons. Bloom thought Lowry would be inspired by the contrast of grim spoil tips side by side with the area’s rugged mountains.
“The trips encouraged Lowry, then aged 77, to embark on a new era of painting, working in a new, intuitive and experimental way,” said Stephen Sparrow, Peter Wilson’s paintings specialist. “Together, Lowry and Bloom made visits to the area every six months or so and it is thought this sketch may have been done when the two men stopped for refreshment in a local café. One can well imagine Lowry drawing this whilst in discussions with Bloom and noting the exact location where he had seen the distinctive free-standing handball court in Nelson, now a listed building.”
He continued, “As was his habit, he then added the fantastic figures and a dog to the foreground and it is interesting to see the scribbled out area to the left of the picture as if he had decided it detracted from the composition. The appreciation of perspective and strength of line is typical of Lowry’s ability as a draughtsman and artist.”
Lowry subsequently gave the napkin as a gift to his close friend, the artist Percy Warburton, who was Head of Bury School of Art. Through Warburton, Lowry became actively involved with the Bury Art Society and became its second president.
“Lowry would often call to visit Warburton socially,” Stephen Sparrow said. “Warburton owned several drawings and paintings given to him by Lowry and many have been sold over the years in the London salerooms.” Warburton subsequently gave the napkin to a Cheshire family who have consigned it to the Peter Wilson sale.
Northern artists featured strongly in the sale with private buyers competing vigorously with each other to secure works by leading names. At the outset, it was a battle for top honours between Salford’s Geoffrey Key, Arthur Delaney, and Donald McIntyre.
Key’s Lillies, a still life of purple flowers in a jug, signed and dated ’08, matched the £7,000 hammer price of the serviette while another still life Panama with Saw, signed and dated ’12, sold for £6,400. Waiting to Dance, a Modernist portrait of a couple in an embrace, signed and dated ’98, sold for £4,900.
Three of Arthur Delaney’s ubiquitous trams featured in a view of Stockport Viaduct, a signed, oil on board, which sold for £5,600, while Mountains from Mynydd Bodafon, by Leeds-born Colourist Donald McIntyre, a signed oil on board, sold for £4,100.
Most valuable 19th century painting proved to be that chosen to decorate the cover of the sale catalogue: a maritime scene with various shipping by James Wilson Carmichael (1800-1868) signed and dated 1844, an oil on canvas, which sold for £2,400 against an estimate of £1,000-1,500.