Yours for £7.8m: How The Lowry pulled off an auction room coup and secured a local masterpiece
'It was only days before the auction that we thought we might have an opportunity to bid'
Dear Millers — it’s a thoroughly dark, wet Thursday in Manchester, although the spirits of at least some readers may have been buoyed by events in Westminster, where Liz Truss announced her resignation earlier today. The Conservatives will now pick a new leader in an expedited leadership race that is supposed to be over by next Friday, with Rishi Sunak considered to be the frontrunner and strong suggestions that Boris Johnson may fly back from his holiday in the Caribbean to join the race. Johnson believes it is a matter of “national interest”, The Times has been told, and is “taking soundings from friends”.
How could we possibly compete with all that? Well, there is one story that represents a bright spark “amid so much appalling and shameful news,” to borrow the words of longtime Mill member and former Guardian journalist Lucy Ward. She’s talking about the sensational purchase of LS Lowry’s Going to the Match by The Lowry gallery at Christie’s last night. The arts centre named in the Salford painter’s honour won an auction for the painting with an artist-record £6.6m bid (rising to £7.8m when you include fees) after a last-minute donation from a Stockport-born hedge fund manager. In today’s edition, we’ve got more details of that purchase and the auction room drama that unfolded in London to secure the painting’s future on public view.
As if that wasn’t enough, we also have:
An important update on the story about Chinese officials assaulting a protester inside the grounds of their consulate in Rusholme.
And some great recommendations for the weekend ahead, chosen by staff writer Jack Dulhanty.
As always, our Thursday edition is a members-only affair, but readers on our free list will be able to read the top of the email, and should join up as members now if they want to read the rest, support our work and get all our high-quality reporting in their inbox every week. After a stellar start to the month, we’ve had a lull in new subscriptions in the past week, so get on board to help us hit 1,500 members in the next few days. You might even be member no. 1,500, in which case you will be invited to the office for tea and asked to pose for a slightly embarrassing marketing photo.
We had dozens of lovely reactions to our Tuesday newsletter, in which Dani Cole signed off as a Mill staff writer. “Oh Dani I’m going to miss your sensitive and in depth reporting,” wrote our member Dorli, adding: “I wish you well on the track of your new adventure and look forward to seeing you on here occasionally.” A member called Michael wrote: “Thank you Dani for your special pieces and pictures and all you've brought to The Mill. I suppose it's a sign of a mature publication when someone leaves, but you have been integral to the story so far, and I wish you the very best.” Dani will still be contributing as a freelancer, and if you’d like to contact her for freelance writing or photos, she’s on Twitter here.
Your Mill briefing
Going to the Match, LS Lowry’s iconic depiction of fans gathering for a football match in Bolton, was bought at auction last night by The Lowry gallery in Salford. The painting has been on public view at the gallery for years but it was previously on loan from The Players Foundation, which put it on sale at Christie’s recently. The Lowry’s winning bid of £6.6m (£7.8m is the total cost of the purchase when fees are included) set a new record for the painter and was made possible by a huge gift from the Law Family Charitable Foundation, set up by the hedge fund manager Andrew Law, who grew up in Cheadle Hulme, and his wife Zoë. Law is both a big Man City fan and a fan of Salford’s most famous painter — he owns his own Lowry, a much less well-known one depicting a matchday between City and Sheffield United. A Times profile last year said Andrew is worth about £750 million and is a “massive fan” of levelling up.
At lunchtime, we spoke to Michael Simpson, The Lowry’s director of visual art, who was at Christie’s last night. He gave us his thrilling account of being in the auction room — that’s below.
There was a major development concerning the assault at the Chinese consulate, which we reported on extensively in Monday’s edition. After criticism in the Times this morning about its inadequate response, the government has toughened its stance a little, delivering a new message to Beijing. Foreign Office minister Jesse Norman told the Commons today that if there are grounds to charge officials over the incident, the government “would expect the Chinese consulate” to waive immunity for those officials. “If they do not, then diplomatic consequences will follow.” That wasn’t enough for Gorton MP Afzal Khan, who has been outspoken in recent days. “Utterly stunned by the Gvt’s failure to act,” he tweeted earlier. “The Chinese Consul General has admitted to assaulting Bob and arrogantly claims that it was ‘his duty’ to do so. There is nothing stopping the Gvt now from declaring the Consul General persona non grata, but they simply refuse.” Watch the Sky News interview with Zheng Xiyuan here.
A consultation meeting for an “active neighbourhood” scheme in Oldham became "hostile" this week, with residents opposing the scheme trying to disrupt consultation sessions and intimidate council officers. At the meeting on Tuesday, the council’s deputy leader Abdul Jabbar tried to tell the hundreds who gathered that the scheme was still under consultation and wouldn't go ahead in its current form, but couldn't be heard over the shouting. You’ll remember our scoop about the junked proposals in Prestwich, and our epic long read about the scheme in Levenshulme. This week, a Mill reader wrote in: “There have been some modifications in Levenshulme — a few streets blocked off with temporary blocks now being made permanent. But absolutely nothing has happened in Burnage. What has happened to the Burnage proposals?” We’ll try to find out — and if you know, drop email@example.com an email.
Local leaders in the North, including Andy Burnham and Manchester City Council leader Bev Craig, have again lamented the “ongoing fiasco” of train services in the region. They say Avanti West Coast and TransPennine Express are just “shrugging their shoulders” in the face of pared-back services that are ruining people’s lives.” On Twitter, Craig said: “in an era of hyperbole, I cannot state enough the damage that our inadequate rail networks are inflicting on our residents. The Secretary of State for Transport needs to take a firm grip and regain control.”
Yasmin Qureshi, the Labour MP for Bolton who we profiled back in February, has raised the issue of court backlogs, one of the country’s most pressing and under-covered crises. The backlog in Bolton is now at over 500 cases, having risen 10% in six months. “The Government’s failure to tackle this crisis has effectively legalised criminal activity and it simply has never been so good to be a criminal," Qureshi told parliament.
And finally, in our podcast this week, Joshi and Darryl discuss the violence at the Chinese consulate in Rusholme, whether Andy Burnham is being realistic when he says you can’t “punish people to net zero”, and how they feel about activists from Animal Rebellion pouring out milk in the Marks & Spencer on Market Street. Search “Manchester Weekly from The Mill” in your favourite podcast app, or just download this episode.
How The Lowry pulled off an auction room coup
By Joshi Herrmann
In the end, it came down to two bidders: The Lowry art gallery and an unknown bidder who was sending his or her bids down the telephone. At Christie’s auction house in London last night, senior figures from Salford’s leading arts venue were trying to pull off an unlikely coup: purchasing LS Lowry’s Going to the Match in order to keep it on public view and prevent it from disappearing into the hands of a private collector.
“It was a tense moment,” says Michael Simpson, The Lowry’s director of visual art, who was in the room alongside his chief executive Julia Fawcett. While Simpson and another colleague scanned the room and tried to keep tabs on who was bidding, Fawcett kept upping the team’s bid. The “hammer shot” photograph below, sent to us by Christie’s, captures the scene.
“There were whole ranks of telephone bidders, so we weren’t at all confident until the very last second when the hammer fell,” says Simpson, who spoke to The Mill earlier today and admitted he was “still recovering” from the stress and elation of the experience. “It came down between us and another bidder who was bidding via the telephone. It was a classic back-and-forth.”
For weeks, The Lowry had been telling everyone who would listen that the painting needed to be kept on public display, as it has been for the past 22 years in the gallery on loan from The Players Foundation, who decided to sell it recently. The gallery had sent out a clear message in the art world: if you buy this painting, please come and speak to us. For The Lowry itself — a registered charity that relies on public funds from Salford City Council and the Arts Council, plus donations from families like the Laws — to buy the painting seemed like a remote possibility.
Extraordinarily, it was only yesterday — on the day of the auction — that the gallery knew for sure that they would be able to make their own bid. In recent days, the hedge fund tycoon Andrew Law sanctioned a massive gift to The Lowry, via his family’s charitable foundation, that would give them the funds to at least have a chance at the auction.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to The Mill to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.