It has been described as “simply the best soccer board ever” and is estimated to fetch up to $9 million at auction later this month, but selling LS Laurie Go to the Match may see beloved artwork disappear from public view.
A 1953 painting, which depicts throngs of Lowry’s trademark, matchstick-like figures heading to a football field in northwest England, will be auctioned on October 19, potentially putting an end to her 22-year stay at the Lowry Museum in Salford. .
The impending sale has raised concerns in the art community and beyond about the future of the picture, so much so that the mayor of Salford has appealed to wealthy football clubs and players to buy the painting and keep it in the public eye.
“There’s a very real danger that the work is going out of public gallery, and there’s a real risk that it might leave the country as well,” Michael Simpson, director of visual arts at Lowry, told CNN.
The painting is expected to fetch between $5.5 million and $9 million (£5-8 million) at auction, according to Christie’s, and Simpson hopes a temporary export ban could ensure the work remains in the UK after it is sold.
In such a case, an independent panel will review the painting and advise the British government on whether it is a national treasure and is deemed ‘critical to leave the UK’.
Many feel the North West of England is the natural home of “going to the match” and its nostalgic portrayal of the fans flocking to the football match.
The painting’s diminutive characters head to Burnden Park – the former and now demolished home of Bolton Wanderers – against a backdrop of factory chimneys and a gray, cloudy sky.
Far from making billions of dollars in the Premier League today, it offers a glimpse of what English football was like in the mid-20th century when spectators headed to matches straight from work on Saturdays.
“Probably the best football board ever, in my opinion,” Mick Kirkbride, a London-based artist featured in Football Art Award The show, he tells CNN.
“It just evokes all about that Saturday release – going in your treasures and your squads and your tribes to that cathedral. And then the industrial background says it all about where the game was born and where it flourished.”
“Going to the Match” was painted when Lowry was at the height of his power, much like the artist’s work – and has grown in popularity in recent decades.
Today, nearly 50 years after his death, he is celebrated for his honest portrayal of ordinary people living ordinary lives.
Using a restrained, largely monochrome palette, Lowry captured industrial scenes around Manchester and Salford, amassing a large body of work over the course of his artistic career.
He has produced several works focusing on sporting events, but “Going to the Match” is the most well known – as the estimated price of the painting suggests.
“For working-class people in the North who love to see paintings, it’s our Mona Lisa, really,” Kirkbride says. “It’s iconic for football fans…you can’t think of so many famous football boards.”
The image was purchased by the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) – the association representing football players in England and Wales – in 1999 when then-CEO Gordon Taylor described it as “the best football board ever”.
But FIFA is now forced to sell the painting to fund its charitable work, which includes helping former footballers with dementia.
The mayor of Salford launched a campaign for a temporary export ban to be attached to the phrase “going to the match” and wrote a letter pleading “[people] One means “to purchase the painting and help display it to the public in the city.
“It has gained its iconic status over the past 20 years when it has been seen in public,” says Simpson, who believes the Lowry Museum is in “really good shape” to continue displaying the painting after it was sold.
“When she was on a private set before that, relatively few people knew about her. But showing her to the public turned her into an icon and greatly increased her value.”
The Lowry is a 15-minute walk from Old Trafford in Manchester United and benefits from increased turnout when the club plays home games as a pre-match meeting point for fans.
“A lot of people come in, and they’ll have something to eat in our coffee shop and they’ll get some drinks at the bar,” Simpson says. “They’ll go up to have a look at the board, or they’ll meet people before they go to the game.”
But Simpson thinks the upcoming World Cup in Qatar could spur overseas collectors to try and buy a “go to the match”, and Kirkbride expects the painting to sell for more than it’s worth given Lowry’s growing popularity.
“It’s the commodification of art versus cultural heritage – it’s a clash of two ideologies,” Kirkbride says. “Art is a commodity, the currency of art. There is a tough market going on there… It is very cruel.”
Regardless of the outcome of the auction, the efforts made over the past few weeks to keep the painting on display in the UK are a testament to Lowry’s artistic legacy and the appeal of nostalgic football.
“Anyone who’s been to a football game can see themselves in that picture because it’s more about the shared experience of seeing a game together and getting together at the game,” Simpson says.
“Laurie captures it nicely in this work.”