LS Lowry’s ‘Going to the Match’ sold at auction for £6.6m
One of English football’s most famous works of art was auctioned off this week in a historic deal that breaks the record for an LS Lowry painting to go to auction.
Lowry’s timeless ‘Going to the Match’ painting went under the hammer at Christie’s in London on Wednesday. It was originally expected to sell for £5-8m, but was eventually sold for £6.6m. This eclipses the previous auction record for a painting by Lowry in 2011, when ‘The Football Match’ sold for over £5million.
All proceeds from the sale of ‘Going to the Match’ will go to The Players Foundation, a charity that supports current and former professional footballers who suffer from dementia, poverty or hardship of any kind.
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The 1953 artwork depicts crowds of fans moving outside Bolton Wanderers’ former Burnden Park ground on match day – a wave of excitement and anticipation amid an industrial scene of otherwise dark and grimy postwar.
Famous for his ‘matchstick men’, the late Salford-based artist (and Manchester City supporter) is beloved for his stylized depictions of working-class life in the north of England in the 1940s and 50s, and ‘Going to the Match” is often quoted. as one of his archetypal works.
The painting also won Lowry his first prize after he entered it into a competition run by the English Football Association in conjunction with the Arts Council of Britain titled “Football and the Fine Arts”. After much deliberation by the jury, ‘Going to the Match’ was selected as one of the four winning plays, earning it a quarter of the £1,000 prize money.
The scene captures English football when it was still mostly rooted in working-class culture, when people crowded into factories, offices and factories for five-and-a-half days a week before clocking in and passing their precious Saturday afternoons free to watch their local team.
‘Going to the Match’ was last sold in 1999, when it was bought by the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) for £1.9m and then sent on loan to The Lowry arts center in Salford , where it has been on display ever since. .
However, due to financial constraints exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, The Lowry announced in September that it had reluctantly decided to sell the painting in order to raise much-needed funds.
The image is so ingrained in English footballing heritage that Salford Mayor Paul Dennett first tried to launch a campaign to buy ‘Going to the Match’ before asking the UK government to ban the exporting the painting before it was auctioned off at Christie’s to prevent the masterpiece from leaving the country.
“We must do all we can to save this critical and important painting by LS Lowry for people to have free access to it here in Salford,” Dennett said.
Buyer details have yet to be released, but The Lowry has asked the new owner to lend it to the gallery.
“Going to the Match” is one of the most renowned works of footballing art in the world, but there are several other notable examples.
‘The Football Game’ (painting by Lowry, 1949)
LS Lowry’s 1949 football game
Panoramic view of a Saturday football match in the industrial city of Manchester. It sold at auction for £5.6 million ($9.2 million) in May 2011. Christie’s London described the painting as “a modern masterpiece”. pic.twitter.com/PyjasMfK2e
— OldFootballPhotos (@OldFootball11) July 28, 2018
Once the most valuable football artwork on record, ‘The Football Match’ was painted four years before ‘Going to the Match’ and before this week had commanded the highest price paid for a Lowry when it sold for £5.6m at Christie’s in 2011. The painting depicts a typical late 1940s football match, with swarms of matchstick men gathered to watch a match unfold on a pitch surrounded by factories grimy, terraced houses and swollen chimneys.
“The Art of the Game” (painting by Michael Browne, 1997)
🎨 The Art of the Game
Inspired by Cantona’s “resurrection” after his nine-month ban for assault.
— Nat. Football Museum (@FootballMuseum) September 30, 2021
Currently held by the National Football Museum, ‘The Art of the Game’ surely represents one of the weirdest works of football art ever produced. Originally created in 1997 in response to the “resurrection” of Eric Cantona’s career following a long ban for assaulting a supporter in 1995, Browne based his large painting on Piero della Francesca’s “Resurrection” ( circa 1460), replacing Jesus Christ with Cantona while his followers – Manchester United teammates David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Gary and Phil Neville – worship at his feet. Above ‘King Eric’, legendary United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has a crown placed on his head by a lesser-known academy graduate, defender John Curtis.
‘Footballer’ (sculpture by Pablo Picasso, 1965)
The Lionel Messi of the art world, Picasso is said to have drawn inspiration from Barcelona’s swashbuckling team of the 1960s.
— Nat. Football Museum (@FootballMuseum) September 30, 2021
One of the most famous and influential artists of all time also dabbled in football with Picasso’s evocative ceramic ‘Footballer’ from the 1960s capturing a player – or perhaps a starfish – in the middle with a kick. Not known to be a huge football fan (he preferred boxing), the great Spanish surrealist still managed to capture the flow and movement of football in a deceptively simple statuette.
‘The Splash’ (sculpture by Peter Hodgkinson, 2004)
Statues are fairly common in football these days, but few have ever exceeded the majesty of Peter Hodgkinson’s tribute to Preston North End legend Sir Tom Finney. Based on a famous photograph of Finney sliding through a huge puddle on the waterlogged Chelsea pitch in 1956, the sculpture recreates the image with angled fountains creating a ‘splash’ around the former England striker. The statue was located outside the Sir Tom Finney Stand at Preston’s Deepdale Stadium and also close to the nearby National Football Museum before moving to Manchester city center in 2012.
‘Baby Foot’ (sculpture by Stéphane Cipre, 2019)
The most expensive foosball game ever sold was actually a functional sculpture by French artist Stéphane Cipre, who created his table in collaboration with a Belgian arthouse co-owned by the Borussia Dortmund right-back. Thomas Miller. Featuring heavy metal tabletop construction and a smooth leather pitch, the 22 rotating minifigures are inspired by great footballers such as Johan Cruyff, Alfredo Di Stefano, Zinedine Zidane and Lionel Messi. A total of 12 identical tables were made, and the first sold for €80,000 in 2019.
‘Parc des Princes’ (painting by Nicolas de Staël, 1952)
The most expensive football artwork on record is French artist De Stael’s marvelous abstract painting which is the latest offering in his 24-painting chronicle of the friendly match between France and Sweden at the Parc des Princes in March 1952 ( 1-0 defeat for Blues). The final table of the series “Les Grands Footballeurs” was a tribute to the grace and elegance of players such as Just Fontaine and Raymond Kopa and sold for €20m at Christie’s in Paris in 2019.