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Details & Cataloguing

Lowry: The A.J. Thompson Collection

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London

Laurence Stephen Lowry, R.A.
1887-1976
PICCADILLY CIRCUS

Provenance

Commissioned from the Artist through Alex. Reid & Lefevre Ltd, London, and thence by descent to the previous owner
Their sale, Phillips, London 9th June 1998, lot 108, where acquired by the late owner

Exhibited

Salford, The Lowry (short-term loan).

Literature

Shelley Rohde, L.S. Lowry, A Biography, The Lowry Press, Salford, 1979, 1999, illustrated p.359.

Catalogue Note

Lowry would have passed through the famous London locus of Piccadilly Circus countless times. As one of the capital’s busiest focal points, it is significant that he chose to capture a rare moment of calm: a solitary cyclist follows the slow, ordered flow of traffic whilst other protagonists seem to be at leisure walking their dogs, chatting and generally passing the time of day. Those on the central steps leading to the fountain appear to be mostly stationary. A couple of adults gaily gossip whilst restraining their impatient children from crossing the road. Some of these characters are from the familiar Lowry ‘cast’, but others appear particular to this London scene. In the bottom right corner, a dapper city gentleman with bowler hat, umbrella and a bright red pocket-square keeps pace with the brown-coated gentleman in front of him.  

Lowry draws us immediately into the heart of the composition, with a central viewpoint looking directly at Eros and down Shaftesbury Avenue. The understated colours on the well-known buildings which form the backdrop to the work, carefully deepen the perspective. Lowry has employed a darker palette for the billboards at the edges of the work which give way to lighter hues at the centre, drawing us down into the misty distance of Shaftesbury Avenue, following the queue of red buses. The celebrated silhouette of the memorial fountain with Eros perched on top is boldly contrasted against the clean white ground with two familiar lamp-posts standing guard. This juxtaposition is reminiscent of the artist’s treatment of churches and municipal statues in his northern landscapes, for example A Street Scene, St Simon's Church (1928, City of Salford Art Gallery) in which the church is painted in a heavy black pigment against the industrial haze.

The first of two known paintings of Piccadilly Circus by the artist, the present work was originally commissioned by the founders of a British film distribution and production company. When it first emerged onto the open market in 1998, the picture achieved a landmark result for Lowry’s work: it was purchased by A.J. Thompson for a world record price of £562,000, taking the price for Lowry's work at auction to over half a million pounds for the very first time.

Lowry: The A.J. Thompson Collection

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London