Laurence Stephen Lowry R.A. (British, 1887-1976) Steps at Wick 43.2 x 53.3 cm. (17 x 21 in.)
Lot 29AR
Laurence Stephen Lowry R.A.
(British, 1887-1976)
Steps at Wick 43.2 x 53.3 cm. (17 x 21 in.)
Sold for £890,500 (US$ 1,441,549) inc. premium

Lot Details
Laurence Stephen Lowry R.A. (British, 1887-1976) Steps at Wick 43.2 x 53.3 cm. (17 x 21 in.)
Laurence Stephen Lowry R.A. (British, 1887-1976)
Steps at Wick
signed and dated 'L.S. LOWRY. 1937' (lower left) and titled 'Steps at Wick' (on the canvas overlap); further signed '-.S. Lowry' (on a partial label attached to the stretcher)
oil on canvas
43.2 x 53.3 cm. (17 x 21 in.)
Please note that this work is accompanied by a receipt from Crane Kalman Gallery

Footnotes

  • PROVENANCE:
    With Alex Reid & Lefevre, London
    With Aitken Dott & Son, Edinburgh
    The Brodie of Brodie Sale; Christie's, Hopetoun House, 15 October 1969, lot 151
    With Crane Kalman Gallery, London, May 1975 where acquired by
    Mr. J Austin
    Frank Austin
    Sale; Christie's, London, 12 March 1982, lot 255
    With Crane Kalman Gallery, London, where acquired by the present owner, 6 July 1993
    Private Collection, U.K.

    EXHIBITED:
    London, Royal Society of British Artists, Summer Exhibition 1939; London and Londoners, 1939, cat.no.246
    Salford, Salford Museum and Art Gallery, Paintings and Drawings by Laurence S. Lowry RBA, 1-31 October 1941, cat.no.10 (£30)
    Sunderland, Sunderland Art Gallery, Industrial Street Scenes etc by Lawrence [sic] S Lowry RBA, 21 September-13 October 1942, cat.no.7 (£30)
    Edinburgh, Aitken Dott & Son, L.S. Lowry, 4-16 September 1944, H.7486, (as The Steps of Wick)
    Edinburgh, The Scottish Arts Council, Modern Art from Scottish Houses; Inaugural Exhibition of the Scottish Arts Council's New Gallery, 13 July-9 August 1969, cat.no.33 (as Steps in Wick)
    London, Crane Kalman Gallery, L.S. Lowry, A Selection of 36 Paintings, 4 November-6 December 1975, cat.no.9 (ill.b&w, as The Steps at Wick)
    London, Royal Academy of Arts, L.S. Lowry R.A., 1887-1976, 4 September-14 November 1976, cat.no.119 (as The Steps at Wick, where lent by Frank Austin)
    Manchester, The Barn Gallery, A Summer Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture by Northern Artists, 10 June-31 July 1993, cat.no.77

    LITERATURE:
    Mervyn Levy, The Paintings of L.S. Lowry, Oil and Watercolours, Jupiter Books, London, 1975, pl.105 (ill.b&w)
    Exhibition Catalogue, L.S. Lowry R.A., 1887-1976, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1976, p.65-66 (ill.b&w)
    Shelley Rohde, L.S. Lowry, A Biography, The Lowry Press, Salford, 1999, p.334

    It was with his aunt that Lowry first visited Scotland, as a young boy on holiday:

    'It was not often that Mary was able to persuade Elizabeth to allow Laurie to visit on his own; but in 1898, while her sister was in the throes of an "attack", she took the ten-year-old boy with her own family on holiday to Scotland. There they hiked across rough moorland, visited local tourist spots, and explored the countryside on bicycles which they hired by the day in the nearby village of Scaur O'Doon.' (Shelley Rohde, L.S. Lowry, a biography, Lowry Press, Salford, 1979, p.48).

    Following this initial introduction to the country, the artist made a number of visits to Scotland throughout his career, travelling as far north as Highland in the late 1930s, where he stopped at the small estuary town of Wick, situated on the east coast. The scene depicted in the present lot shows The Black Stairs (see fig.1), which formed part of the Scottish architect Thomas Telford's (1757-1834) 1809 scheme for the new town plan of Pulteneytown (an area of Wick on the south side of the River Wick), for the British Fisheries Society. They were an integral part of Telford's original plan for Pulteneytown, linking the residential area above the bank, via Lower Dunbar Street, to the harbour below. However, construction of The Black Stairs (interestingly, the name appears to have been a local popular one as it does not feature in Telford's plan) did not commence until the 1820s. They are located in what used to be the heart of the Herring Industry, an industrial area which at one time was among the busiest herring ports in Europe; although by 1937 the area would have already been in decline. In a touching testament to Lowry's picture, the town of Wick in 2005 commemorated the striking canvas by mounting a stone relief plaque, reproducing the work's composition, in situ (see fig.2). The Black Stairs, a short but steep flight of stone steps with a centre railing are rendered by Lowry with thick black outlines emphasizing their dramatic presence; they cover the majority of the canvas space. Carefully positioned figures walk up and down the steps whilst children loaf around towards the bottom. At their base, in the street, a huddled group of figures seem to be involved in an intense discussion, whilst a single female figure dressed in bright red, appearing from the bottom left edge is strategically framed by two wooden posts. As with most major Lowry paintings, all of the figures in Steps at Wick have a purpose; nothing is left to chance. The observers' eyes roam the picture, guided by the artist and his intelligent positioning of his subjects.

    There is another impressive canvas representing this district of Wick, painted the previous year in 1936, titled Old Houses, Wick (see fig.3, sold in these rooms, 26th November 1996, lot 111). And the following year, in 1938, Lowry probably visited Thurso on the north coast of Highland, which resulted in a visually arresting canvas, Street Musicians (Private Collection). The architecture in these paintings are imbued with an anthropomorphic presence; house and warehouse walls twist and lean mirroring the figures that they frame, in stark contrast to Lowry's depiction of buildings in his Mancunian oils executed in the 1920s and early 1930s where they are rigid, flat and very clearly man-made. Frustratingly not a great deal is known of Lowry's visits (or maybe visit) to Highland. What is known are that pictures, and indeed drawings (Shore Street, Thurso, collection of The Lowry, Salford) resulting from this trip are extremely rare, and at best stretch to a couple of handfuls of works. Further afield in Scotland Lowry, perhaps unsurprisingly given his metropolitan upbringing, visited the cities of both Edinburgh and Glasgow. A fine series of oils dating from the late 1940s depict Glasgow Docks and are arguably, along with his 'Highland Series', the artist's key Scottish pictures.

    Steps at Wick is a painting which has always been highly revered. In the following passage, we are given an interesting contemporaneous reaction to the work. Reid refers to A.J. McNeill Reid, a director of the exclusive Lefevre Gallery off St. James's (who were to represent the artist from 1939 onwards), and Daisy Jewell, to the lady who was head of the framing department of James Bourlet and Sons, Fine Art Agents based in the fashionable Fitzrovia, who famously introduced Reid to Lowrys work in 1938 just one year after the present lot was painted:

    'Reid was almost as fervent as Daisy Jewell in his encouragement of Lowry. He fixed him a show in Edinburgh in 1944 and was very disappointed when only one picture - Steps in Wick[sic] – was sold. However, as he pointed out, the show got a good notice in The Scotsman, a paper not given to reviewing one-man shows in dealers' galleries. Reid had some of the pictures transferred to Glasgow for inclusion in his next show there, in the hope that "my enthusiasm for your work will manage to effect some sales where others have failed."'(Op.Cit, p.334).
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