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Lowry painting from Beaverbrook Art Gallery worth $1.7M-$2.6M to be auctioned off in London

A painting given by Lord Beaverbrook to Fredericton’s Beaverbrook Art Gallery in 1959 is set to be auctioned off in London.

Tom Smart, director of the gallery, confirmed to CBC News that Beach Scene, Lancashire by British painter Laurence Stephen Lowry — or L.S. Lowry — is up for sale.

Smart said this is a process called deaccessioning. The frequency of this process varies, but this year, the gallery deaccessioned around 50 works.

The gallery informs the collections committee and the board of the decision, Smart said, and is then questioned about why the particular works are being removed from the collection.

An unsmiling man with grey hair on the sides of his head. He wears a black crewneck sweater with a pink dress shirt underneath.
Tom Smart, director of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, says the painting underwent a process called deaccessioning. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

The funds from the sale will go back into the acquisition fund, said Smart.

“We will be able to purchase new works of art that flesh out areas where we don’t have representation,” he said. 

“The curators would determine what would be a good acquisition to give a fuller picture of a particular period, or a particular movement or style.”

Lowry’s Beach Scene, Lancashire, dated 1947, depicts a bustling beach in northwest England with a large boat as the central focus and several smaller boats around it.

Smart said selling a painting is considered when the art piece is rarely exhibited, or when there are multiple other examples of work from the same artist in the collection.

In the case of this painting, Smart said there are multiple other Lowry pieces in the collection, including some that he said better represent Lowry’s work.

“Lowry’s work shows people going to work in the villages, and then the factories of Northern England and this is kind of an atypical scene of a beach scene, that as I say, it’s rarely, rarely exhibited at all,” he said. 

A painting of an industrial city.
Smart said there are multiple other Lowry pieces in the collection, including some that he says better represent Lowry’s work. This one is a 1956 oil on canvas titled ‘Industrial View, Lancashire.’ (Submitted by the Beaverbrook Art Gallery)

“So the other examples are on view and are more typical of the kind of work that you would expect to see Lowry doing.”

Beach Scene, Lancashire is estimated to sell for between $1.7 million and $2.6 million CAD or between £1 million and £1.5 million GBP, according to Sotheby’s website, where the painting is being sold.

It’s the highest estimation out of the five Lowry works that will be auctioned on Tuesday. 

The website says the painting was acquired by Lord Beaverbrook in 1955, and given to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in 1959.

Bryn Sayles, head of sale for Modern British and Irish Art at Sotheby’s, was not available for an interview. But in an emailed statement, she said when Lowry began painting in the 1920s, trips to the seaside were relatively new occurrences for mill workers and their families.

But as a child, she said Lowry travelled to Lytham St Anne’s, a seaside town in Lancashire, and was fascinated by the ships.

Sotheby's flag mounted off building.
Bryn Sayles, head of sale for Modern British and Irish Art at Sotheby’s, says in ‘Beach Scene, Lancashire’ we see Lowry ‘at his very best.’ (Reuters)

Sayles said Beach Scene, Lancashire is one of the best examples of Lowry’s seaside subjects to ever come to market.

“Lowry’s scenes of the seaside are rarer than his depictions of the billowing factories of the north of England,” she wrote.

“In Beach Scene, Lancashire we see Lowry at his very best, escalating the everyday scenes of the north of England to the status of high art, in a way no artist before him had.”

Fredericton resident wishes process was more public

Brian MacKinnon, a Fredericton resident and artist, said the sale concerns him.

He said this Lowry work is one of the artist’s highlights.

“It’s just majestic work. And so it’s just, it’s a loss for our legacy here in New Brunswick. We’re so lucky to have that in a small city and a small province and I doubt if there’s anything like this in Canada of this artist’s work,” said MacKinnon.

He said since the Beaverbrook Art Gallery is a public art gallery, the discussion to sell the piece should have been made more public.

“I thought this work was partially mine and yours.”

However Smart said the process is public.

He said the gallery informed the board, sent out news releases to local news agencies and applied for an export permit, which he said is a public process through the Government of Canada.

Smart said the gallery was in touch with the Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation and offered the painting to them first. 

Max Aitken, the great-grandson of Lord Beaverbrook, also known as Max Aitken, said in an email that the painting was a gift from one of the Beaverbrook foundations, and confirmed that the gallery did offer the painting to the relevant foundation, which decided not to buy it.

The painting is one of 133 works Lord Beaverbrook sent to New Brunswick that were part of a decade-long legal dispute between the gallery and the Beaverbrook U.K. Foundation. In 2007 an arbitrator ruled that the gallery owned 85 of the works, including the Lowry, sent to the gallery before its opening in 1959.

A second parallel dispute with the Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation for another group of 78 works was settled in 2014.

The Beaverbrook Art Gallery was officially designated the provincial art gallery of New Brunswick in 1994.