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Piccadilly Circus, London

About the item

Of the handful of London scenes that Lowry painted, this is the most iconic and monumental rendering of the cosmopolitan capital. The panorama is painted from a high viewpoint, taking in a wide view towards Regent Street and Shaftesbury Avenue. The scale of this work is impressive, making it similar in size to Lowry’s most majestic industrial landscapes. The iconic architecture of the buildings, clad with the famous billboards overlook the busy junction. Coca Cola is the most noticeable brand, and is the only product which is still advertised there today. The other advertisements are vaguer and more difficult to make out. Lowry has not depicted the flamboyant colours of  1960s advertising, observed in the garish-coloured postcard which was sent to him by his friend Ted Frape, director of Salford City Art Gallery, when he heard Lowry was painting this scene (see Shelley Rohde, L.S. Lowry, A Biography, The Lowry Press, Salford, 1979, p.358). Lowry uses a muted golden-yellow pigment for the billboards – despite the potential for louder, brighter colours – which is echoed by the colour tones of some of the vans and even a few of the figures. The effect is to draw us more towards Lowry’s real interest, the finely painted silhouettes of the bustling crowd. A yellow tinge is added to the usual flake-white ground particularly in the sky, reminding us that in the fifties and early sixties London was a city dogged by pervasive smog. Lowry has caught Piccadilly in rush hour and a busy crowd bustles around Eros. We are distanced from the people who Lowry has deliberately reduced to mere outlines of colour with the flick of a brush, whilst retaining their individuality and expressive movements. Lowry in this work has focused on mass-movement, the patterns and rhythms of the `hurry of the city’ as people run to catch a train or nip past a van and avoid an approaching bus. Yet despite the chaos, there is a core of stillness to the work around the imposing black silhouette of the Eros fountain where we find a more relaxed gathering of people standing, possibly waiting for the traffic to pass. Indeed, whilst many figures are so hurried they appear almost diagonal, Lowry in this crowd, has cleverly mixed the paces, adding a few who trudge, hands in pockets, and figures who amble along in conversation while some pause admiring each other’s dogs. The coterie of carefully differentiated figures heading in all directions includes the familiar cast: women, children, businessmen, the elderly, together with their hats, scarves, umbrellas, walking-sticks, handbags, suitcases and even a pram. The choreographed placement of the groups is essential for the balance of the composition. Spalding comments on Lowry’s depiction of the crowd: `This is the secret of Lowry’s crowd scenes. It is not the individuals, though each has character, but the way they relate to each other, echo or counteract each other’s shapes to build up a rhythmic pattern which creates the vitality in his scenes’ (Julian Spalding, Lowry, The Herbert Press Ltd, London, 1987, p.16).\nPiccadilly Circus, London was painted at a time when Lowry’s work was particularly in demand. It was included in his famous one-man show in London on 11th October 1961. An exhibition which was so popular that the Daily Herald headlined the show with 'Sold Out - Try Again Later' alongside a photo of Lowry standing by this very painting (see pp.68-69). Shelley Rohde describes the opening: ‘On the morning of the private view, the customary hush of the Lefevre Gallery, now moved to Burton Street, was rudely disturbed by hordes of "cheque-waving admirers of the artist" ...’  (Shelley Rohde, L.S. Lowry, A Biography, The Lowry Press, Salford, 1979, p.357).\nThis exceptional work was previously in the collection of the hotelier, the late Lord Forte, who had owned it for over twenty years. It was auctioned in 2011, when the work sold for £5.6 million equalling the previous record-price for a painting by Lowry at auction. Since A.J. Thompson purchased the work, it has been displayed as a loan alongside the permanent collection at The Lowry and most recently included in the Tate retrospective.\nSigned and dated 1960


Oil on canvas


Laurence Stephen Lowry, R.A.


The following condition report has been prepared by Hamish Dewar or Hamish Dewar Ltd., 13 & 14 Mason's Yard, Duke Street, St James's, London, SW1Y 6BU. Structural Condition: The canvas is unlined on the original keyed wooden stretcher and is providing a secure and stable structural support. There are faint central vertical stretcher-bar lines which are most pronounced in a vertical line running through the black pigments of the Eros's fountain. There is a trace of a diagonal scratch with a small impact point on the back of the canvas running in from the right vertical stretcher-bar as seen from the reverse and small traces of paint on the reverse of the canvas. Paint Surface: Inspection under ultra-violet light shows scattered retouchings in the sky. There are a number of small areas the most significant of which are: 1) an area in the upper left of the sky which measures approximately 5 x 1 cm and is 6 cm below the upper horizontal framing edge and 9 cm in from the left vertical framing edge. 2) An area in the upper right of the sky, approximately 6 cm below the upper horizontal framing edge, which consists of a number of small dots and lines which in total measure approximately 12 x 1.5 cm. There are other small scattered spots and lines of inpainting in the sky. The only retouchings on the main body of the composition would appear to be a small area in the Gordon's Gin advertising hoarding which is approximately 3 cm in length and a small dot of inpainting to the right of this, approximately 15 cm in from the right vertical framing edge. There is no evidence of retouching corresponding to the scratches on the reverse of the canvas. Summary: The painting would therefore appear to be in good and stable condition, with some retouchings that should be noted in the characteristically dry white pigments of the sky. Housed in a thick gilt and painted wooden frame. Please telephone the department on +44 (0) 207 293 6424 if you have any questions regarding the present work. "This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."


76 by 102cm.; 30 by 40in.


London, Alex. Reid & Lefevre Ltd, New Paintings by L.S. Lowry, October 1961, cat. no.34, illustrated; Sunderland, Sunderland Art Gallery, L.S. Lowry R.A. Retrospective Exhibition, August - September 1966, cat. no.88, illustrated, with Arts Council tour to Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, Bristol City Art Gallery, Bristol and Tate, London; Cardiff, National Gallery of Wales, (long-term loan, March 1979 - December 1981); London, Royal Academy of Arts, L.S. Lowry, 4th September - 14th November 1976, cat. no.255; Salford, The Lowry, A Lowry Summer, 7th July – 9th September 2012, un-numbered exhibition; London, Tate, Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life, 25th June - 20th October 2013, un-numbered exhibition, illustrated, fig.114.


Burlington Magazine, October 1961, no. 703, vol.103, illustrated p.28; The Daily Herald, 12th October 1961, illustrated p.4; David McLean, L.S. Lowry, Medici Society, London, 1978, p.20, illustrated; T.G. Rosenthal, L.S. Lowry, The Art and the Artist, Unicorn Press, Norwich, 2010, illustrated p.87.


Alex. Reid & Lefevre Ltd, London Alasdair Roger Mrs. Richard Beecham Roy Miles Fine Paintings, London, where purchased by Lord Forte, April 1983 His sale, Christie's London, 16th November 2011, lot 7, where acquired by the late owner


Signed and dated 1960


1887 - 1976

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.