London – Christie‟s announce the sale of Lord Forte‟s Collection of Paintings by L.S. Lowry, undoubtedly the highest quality group of works by the artist to come to the market. The 14 paintings will be offered in Christie‟s inaugural evening sale of 20th Century British & Irish Art on 16 November 2011. The Forte family name is synonymous with the world famous hotel brand which was established by the entrepreneurial magnate Charles Forte who created a worldwide empire of restaurants and hotels from virtually nothing. Having opened his first „milk bar‟ on Regent Street, London, at the age of 26 in 1935, he built an impressive portfolio and a company which was FTSE 100 listed. This is a legacy of excellence which now lives on in the form of the Rocco Forte Hotels, a collection of five-star hotels. The collection is being sold by the descendants of Lord Forte (1908 – 2007).
Comprised entirely of important oil paintings which date from the 1930s to 1960s, this remarkable collection was passionately assembled with Lord Forte‟s discerning eye, largely during the artist‟s lifetime, in the 60s, 70s and 80s. It is led by a joyous and highly evocative depiction of Piccadilly Circus, London, from 1960, which is – like most of the works – offered for the first time at auction and expected to realise between £4 million and £6 million, illustrated above. A masterpiece within the artist‟s oeuvre, this is the most desirable and exceptional of Lowry‟s rare London scenes. Among the roll call of other significant works, of which four are million-pound-plus paintings, further highlights include Fun Fair at Daisy Nook, 1953 (estimate: £1,500,000-2,000,000) and Saturday Afternoon, 1941 (estimate: £1,200,000-1,800,000). Crossing the spectrum of potential subjects, dates and price levels, estimates range from £120,000 to £6 million. The market for Lowry has never been stronger, with Christie‟s recent sale of The Football Match, 1949, setting a world record price for the artist at auction and a world record price for the category of 20th Century British & Irish Art, when it sold for £5.6 million.
Rachel Hidderley, Christie’s International Specialist and Director, 20th Century British Art: “The most important group of works by L.S. Lowry ever to come to auction, this private collection of 14 paintings includes the iconic London masterpiece „Piccadilly Circus‟, as well as an extensive Industrial landscape, a Saturday afternoon football match, the Easter Fun Fair at Daisy Nook, together with views of Lowry’s beloved Salford. Every type of Lowry cityscape is represented here from the earliest, crowded and claustrophobic „Old Street‟ in 1932, to the confident, bustling panoramas of the 1960s, culminating in „Piccadilly Circus‟, 1960.” Philip Harley, Director & Head of 20th Century British & Irish Art, Christies London: “This group offers Lowry collectors the opportunity to acquire a master work from this carefully composed collection, gathered by an eminent figure of the Post-War British era.”
Lowry painted very few London scenes. Only two depict the capital‟s iconic landmark Piccadilly Circus, the earlier and smaller of which, dating to 1959 and measuring 20 x 24 in., was a private commission. It was sold in June 1998 for £562,500, which was – at the time – a record price for the artist. The Forte example, detail illustrated right, is considerably larger, measuring 30 x 40 in. Executed a year later it is painted from a higher vantage point enabling a fuller and wider scene, with even more figures, vehicles and buildings. This painting is a masterpiece, exuding palpable excitement and an intoxicating sense of London‟s daily hustle-and-bustle, accentuated by Lowry‟s inimitable stamp of the row of figures crossing the foreground. This activity is balanced with a fresh light palette and notable expanse of sky.
Unlike many of his industrial landscapes, Lowry‟s London pictures are not imagined but based on well-known places, as this work reflects. A fascinating historical record of location, brands and design, it depicts the distinctive advertising signs of Wrigleys, Coca-Cola, Bovril, the Guinness clock, Max Factor, Schweppes and Gordon‟s Gin, . Confusingly for the present day viewer familiar with the location, the Circus underwent reconstruction in the late 1980s when the monument – the focal point of the composition – was moved from the centre of the junction at the entrance to Shaftesbury Avenue to its present location in the Southwest corner. The Shaftesbury Monument Memorial Fountain (1892-93), which was built to commemorate Lord Shaftesbury‟s philanthropic works, is most known for the famous winged figure of The Angel of Christian Charity, by Sir Alfred Gilbert, which sits atop and is popularly known as „Eros‟, detail illustrated right.
Fun Fair at Daisy Nook, 1953, is a captivating work, providing a loose representation of the Lancashire town‟s sweeping hills with a combination of very abstract areas and evocative vignettes of people jostling through the scene in to the distance (estimate: £1,500,000-2,000,000). Highlighting Lowry‟s remarkable technique, some of these figures are single touches of paint. Offered for the first time at auction, this painting relates closely to the artist‟s earlier work Good Friday, Daisy Nook, 1946, which set the record price for the artist and the category at auction when it realised £3,772,000 in 2007, this stood for 4 years and was only surpassed in May 2011 by Lowry‟s The Football Match. Traditionally, mill workers were confined to only two statutory days of holiday every year: Good Friday and Christmas Day. Every year on Good Friday, a fair at Daisy Nook was staged to provide entertainment for the local crowds. Managed by the Silcock family, whose name appears in the background of the painting, the fair regularly attracted huge numbers of people and still takes place to this day.
Providing a classic juxtaposition and interplay between work and leisure, Saturday Afternoon, 1941, depicts people of all ages at play and leisure on their weekend, with an anonymous mill looming in the background reminding the viewer of what the next day brings (estimate: £1,200,000-1,800,000). On the left going out of the frame is a crowd watching a football match, with a less formal game unfolding in the center of the canvas, and a couple of bicycles gliding through. The factory is strikingly similar to Acme Spinning Company Mill, Pendlebury which sparked Lowry‟s first interest in industrial working scenes. Having missed a train he stood at the top of the station steps and had time to absorb the scene that he had looked at “without seeing” many times before. Painted during the war, this painting depicts an important moment of relaxation and play in Northern England.
The first Lowry that Lord Forte bought in July 1961 was Sandsend near Whitby, 1953, (estimate: £120,000-180,000), illustrated left. Many of the northern scenes depict unspecified or imagined locations, including other top lots such as Industrial Landscape, 1944, (estimate: £1,200,000-1,800,000), Town Centre, 1966 (estimate: £500,000-800,000) and Northern Street Scene, 1962 (estimate: £500,000-800,000), through to Town Steps, 1954 (estimate: £300,000-500,000), the Two Anglers, 1963 (estimate: £200,000-300,0000), and The Bridge, 1931 (estimate: £250,000-350,000). The exceptions are the engaging and slightly surreal painting entitled Stow-on-the-Wold, 1947 (estimate: £250,000-350,000), An Old Street, 1932, which shows a street in Stockport called Mealhouse Brow (estimate: £500,000-800,000), and two Lytham pictures, Country Road, near Lytham (1952) (estimate: £150,000-250,000) and The Farm (1955) (estimate: £150,000-250,000), showing Lytham in Fylde in Lancashire.
However, I released the brush to pluck at other instruments, some of which were self-taught.