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Painting Lord Beaverbrook gave to Fredericton gallery sells for just above $2M at London auction

A pricey painting from Fredericton’s Beaverbrook Art Gallery was sold at auction Tuesday in London.

Beach Scene, Lancashire by British painter L.S. Lowry sold for slightly more than $2 million Cdn at Sotheby’s.

Tom Smart, the Beaverbrook’s director, said recently funds raised from the sale would go into the acquisition fund to purchase new works.

Smart was not available for comment after the painting sold at auction. How much money the Beaverbrook will receive is confidential, said Sotheby’s, as are details about the buyer.

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, the director of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, said recently the money from the sale would go into the acquisition fund to purchase new works. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

The painting, from 1947, shows a busy beach in northwest England, with a large boat on the water surrounded by several smaller boats.

Michael Simpson, director of visual arts and engagement at The Lowry, a theatre and gallery in Manchester named for the artist, said there’s a lot of interest in works by Lowry, but his gallery wasn’t one of them this time around.

He said the gallery depleted most of its resources after acquiring the painter’s Going to the Match for $8 million a year ago.

“But often what happens is private collectors buy works by L.S. Lowry at auction and then contact us soon afterwards and say, ‘Would you like to borrow this work for a couple of years and have it on display?'” said Simpson. 

WATCH | The moment Beach Scene sells at Sotheby’s:

Sold! Beaverbrook Art Gallery’s Beach Scene sells big at Sotheby’s

L.S. Lowry painting goes for just over $2-million Cdn at London’s famed auction house.

“And to be honest, should that happen after tonight, I’m sure we can have a very positive conversation.”

Simpson said Lowry lived in Salford in the northwest of England and people often assume he was untrained because of his style, but in reality, he had extensive art training and could do anatomical and life drawings, but just chose to pursue a “very idiosyncratic style.”

Simpson said he loves Lowry’s style because his paintings show everyday people doing everyday things.

“It’s the ordinariness, I think, of the scene that is so important because no other British artists were making art like this at the time, about … people’s daily lives.”

A man wearing a zip-up black sweater and black-rimmed glasses. He sits in front of a poster and a bulletin of photos.
Michael Simpson, director of visual arts and engagement at The Lowry, a theatre and gallery in Manchester, said it isn’t often that a painting will go from public domain and then into a private collection, not to be seen again for years. (Zoom/CBC)

Beach Scene, Lancashire was acquired by Lord Beaverbrook in 1955 and given to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in 1959, according to Sotheby’s.

It was one of 133 works Lord Beaverbrook sent to New Brunswick that became 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.

Last week, Smart said the gallery has multiple other Lowry pieces in the collection that he says better represent Lowry’s work, and Beach Scene, Lancashire was rarely displayed.

Selling the painting, known as deaccessioning, would allow the gallery to “flesh out areas where we don’t have representation,” whether that be for a particular period, movement or style, said Smart.

Simpson said deaccessioning tends to be a hot topic but said he understands that it is a careful decision, and a gallery will often have a strong sense of what it wants to do with the funds in terms of new acquisitions. 

As for what Lowry’s thoughts on the sale would be, Simpson said he doesn’t think he would care.

“He always was quite skeptical about the whole art world and he would say, ‘Well, if you want to sell it, then do it.’ You know, it wouldn’t be a big deal as far as he was concerned, I don’t think,” said Simpson.