Famous L. S. Lowry painting depicting a rugby league crowd to go on public display for first time ahead of auction

The earliest known sports painting by L. S. Lowry, depicting crowds gathering for a rugby league match is to be unveiled in public for the first time in over 50 years, ahead of its auction debut at Sotheby’s this summer.

Painted in 1928, Going to the Match is among the earliest known, if not the earliest, depiction of one of L.S. Lowry’s most iconic and timeless subjects – that of spectators thronging to a sporting occasion. Famed for his images of football, it is significant that it is a rugby match he chose to paint first, no doubt testament to the importance of the Rugby League to Northern communities. One of only a small handful of paintings of the sport known to have been painted by Lowry, the extremely rare work is an exceptional example of the beloved artist’s unique visual language. In this painting, the red flag seen flying by the ground, as well as the red scarves worn by several of the crowd members, hints at the Salford Red Devils – Lowry’s local team.

Having remained in the same family collection since 1972, and only exhibited once before now in 1966, Going to the Match will be offered with an estimate of £2,000,000 – 3,000,000 as part of Sotheby’s inaugural British Art: Modern/ Contemporary live-stream auction this summer. The painting will travel to New York, Edinburgh and Dublin for public exhibitions ahead of the auction, before going on view at Sotheby’s New Bond Street from 22 – 29 June.

“Lowry was the ultimate onlooker, and in his compositions focusing on sporting subjects, it is the crowd that fascinated him above all else. Not only is this likely to be the earliest sports related picture Lowry painted, but it is also one of his very first depictions of a mass of people going to and from anywhere. In this phenomenal painting, the figures lean forward in unison, emphasising their common purpose in being drawn to the rugby posts clearly visible on the left-hand side of the canvas. The pre-match sense of energy, excitement and anticipation is palpable and will resonate with any sports lover today, almost 100 years after it was painted,” said Frances Christie, Deputy Chairman of Sotheby’s UK & Ireland

Photo: Courtesy of Sotheby’s