A painting by LS Lowry beloved by football fans throughout the country has been bought by the Lowry Arts Centre in Salford. The decision to buy the piece saved it from disappearing into a private collection.
The Centre paid £7.8million including fees for Going to the Match – painted in 1953 – at an auction on Wednesday evening.
It was made possible by a gift from the Law Family charitable foundation, which was set up by the hedge fund manager and Conservative party donor Andrew Law and his wife, Zoë.
The painting had been estimated to go for £5million-£8million.
Julie Fawcett, the chief executive of the Lowry, said: “We firmly believe this iconic artwork must remain on public view, so it can continue to be seen by the broadest possible audiences, for free.
“This evening, thanks to an incredibly generous gift from the Law Family charitable foundation, we are delighted to have purchased Going to the Match 1953 for the city’s collection of LS Lowry works.
“We look forward to bringing it home to Salford, where it can continue to delight and attract visitors to the Andrew and Zoë Law galleries at the Lowry.”
Andrew Law said: “This LS Lowry painting belongs in Salford on public view, close to his birthplace, where he was educated and where he lived.
“Place matters. LS Lowry’s depiction of people attending a football match is just one of his many incredible genres of work, but it is undoubtedly his most iconic.”
The painting has been on public display at the Lowry Arts Centre for 22 years.
It was bought in 1999 by the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), the union for current and former players, for £1.9 million.
At the time, Gordon Taylor, then the PFA’s chief executive, said it was “quite simply the finest football painting ever”.
The PFA decided to sell the painting this year after the charitable arm of its organisation became a separate body, the Players Foundation.
Lowry, famous for his stick-like figures and industrial scenes in the northwest of England in the mid-20th century, produced a number of football paintings, of which Going to the Match is the best known.
The stadium in the painting was Burnden Park, the former home of Bolton Wanderers, close to Lowry’s home in Pendlebury.
It was demolished in 1999 and the site is now a retail park.
“Going to the Match is about emotion, excitement, the crowd gathering, the group experience,” Nicholas Orchard, the head of modern British and Irish art at Christie’s, said before the sale.