Retro Or Modern? What Lowry Auction May Tell Us

February 13, 2023
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The desire of householders to decorate their home with art arguably goes back to the age of prehistoric cave paintings, but in the 21st century the big question is whether the most fashionable, on-trend thing to do is to find modern works from contemporary art dealers, or go retro?

Such a question may be answered, at least in part, by reflecting on trends in sales, including auctions. Perhaps one of the most interesting of these coming up is a sale of works by the famous Lancastrian artist L.S. Lowry.

Taking place at the Tennants Auctioneers office in Leyburn, North Yorkshire on March 4th, it will feature two archetypal works by the artist of people going about their normal lives in industrial northern landscapes in the early 20th century.

On the one hand, there is the ‘Stepped Street’ in Stockport with its various matchstick figures going back and forth on the steep hillside flanked by terraces. Then there is a more expansive picture of the River Wear at Sunderland, back in the days when it was a busy port full of ships. The pictures are expected to fetch prices of upwards of £50,000 and £12,000 respectively.

That such items should fetch a high price may be indicative of a clear desire for some to own a Lowry, with the artist’s works remaining popular to the point where there is a whole art gallery dedicated to him in his native Salford.

However, the Lowry Centre itself does not just display Lowry paintings; it also has exhibitions of contemporary art such as Narratives, a series of contemporary displays focusing on modern art.

That may act as a potent reminder that art never stands still. There is a place for the celebrated works of famous artists from the past, but there is also room for the contemporary. If a high price for an auctioned Lowry tells us anything, it is that retro has an enduring appeal. It does not mean that the modern has slipped out of fashion.

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