Now on show at The Lowry, it’s expected to reach up to £1.2m at auction this summer

He may have had to squeeze his artistic endeavours around rent collecting and later, looking after his bedridden mother, but Laurence Stephen Lowry has arguably left one of the art world’s greatest cultural legacies. 

The serviette sketches he once distributed to holidaying families by the beach in Sunderland are now worth thousands, while his bronze likeness props up the bar at Sam’s Chop House and his £106m namesake arts centre in Salford Quays is one of the North West’s leading visitor attractions. Yet his work rarely comes up for sale privately. 

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A Cricket Match was unveiled at The Lowry yesterday

That’s why the case of A Cricket Match is a rarity in more ways than one. Not only does it depict an uncommon subject for Lowry but the painting will be auctioned at Sotheby’s, where it’s expect to fetch a cool £800,000 to £1.2m. When it last appeared on the market, in its auction debut at Sotheby’s in June 1996, it set the then world record for a work by the artist at £282,000.

Depicting a backstreet cricket match in Salford, the unusual piece will be on display at The Lowry until 27 May before heading to London for a pre-auction display from 14-17 June. It will then be offered as a highlight of Sotheby’s Modern & Post-War British Art evening sale on 18 June before leaving with one (very wealthy) bidder. 

The painting comes from the collection of Gina and Neil Smith, who - although based in America - was born and raised in Greater Manchester. Further paintings from their cherished collection, including works by John Constable and Pieter Brueghel the Younger, will be offered in Sotheby’s Old Master sales and there’ll be also be a sale of their collection of fine English furniture and silver. 

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Unassuming to the end, Lowry shied from his celebrity status and holds the record for the most honours declined - including OBE, CBE and a Knighthood

Simon Hucker, senior specialist of modern and post-war British art at Sotheby’s, said of A Cricket Match: “This outstanding painting is in many ways a ‘classic’ Lowry - depicting the tough environment of the industrial cities of the north at the turn of the 20th century - and yet the subject of children engaged in a game of cricket makes it quite unusual. Coinciding with the staging of the Cricket World Cup in the UK, this painting presents collectors with a fantastic opportunity to acquire a rare image from Lowry’s own singular world-view.” 

Lowry and 'A Cricket Match'

Lowry’s interest in sporting occasions was always about the spectacle and the crowds that even informal matches drew. Cricket, as much as football, was at the heart of Lancashire life in the 1930s and so it is surprising that the subject only makes a few appearances in Lowry’s oeuvre. Indeed, Lowry painted a formal cricket match just once.

In A Cricket Match, the landscape could not be further removed from that of the hallowed turf at Old Trafford. Instead, the match plays out on an uneven waste ground, framed by a large dilapidated tenement building with broken and boarded up windows. Painted in an almost ghostly pale pink, the structure has an exquisitely haunting presence - a ghostly counterpoint to the grand Victorian pavilion at Old Trafford.

At first glance, it appears to be a simple moment in daily life, yet Lowry has constructed it very carefully to ensure that the narrative unfolds slowly, enveloping the viewer in its poignancy.

Children playing games are an essential narrative element in Lowry’s work, providing an emotional counter-point to the burdensome life of work. They act as a reminder of the joy that for the adults had now become elusive or fleeting. In this painting, Lowry gives the children the centre stage, dotted around the composition, as enthusiastic players and spectators straining for a good view. The only adults in the painting are a group of unemployed men smoking and passing the time over a broken wall, with only half an eye on what is going on behind them.

A Cricket Match will be on display at The Lowry until Monday 27 May (free entry) - Pier 8, The Quays, Salford M50 3AZ