It may now be a car park and a patch of wasteland but an oil painting of a former bustling railway station by Salfordian LS Lowry is set to fetch £3million.
The picture – entitled Station Approach, Manchester – was painted on canvas by the artist in 1960 but has not been seen in public for 30 years because it was in private ownership.
Now the 30x40inch painting has gone on display for the first time since 1984 – ahead of its highly lucrative sale at Sotherby’s auction house on June 10.
The 54-year-old picture depicts crowds of rush hour commuters heading to and from the London and North Western Railway Exchange station, which was built in 1884 in Manchester city centre.
It shows a typically 1960’s industrial skyline with smoke pouring from factory chimneys whilst the crowds swell around a large sculpture of Oliver Cromwell, which was presented to Manchester in 1875.
The painting was considered one of Lowry’s finest works although the station itself – which was rebuilt after being bombed during the Christmas Manchester Blitz in 1940 – shut down in 1969 and was subsequently pulled down.
The painting was initially exhibited in London during the artist’s sell out 1961 exhibition at the Lefevre Gallery.
Lowry himself held the picture in such affection he presented a miniature version to the Royal Acadamy of Arts when he was elected a Royal Academician in 1962.
But the painting was later sold privately and had never been previously exhibited near Lowry’s home turf of Salford, Greater Manchester.
Today, the scene of Station Approach in real life is barely recognisable with only the distinctive chimney of Strangeways Prison, now HMP Manchester, still standing.
Elsewhere is a car park and spare land next to the city’s Cathedral while the statue of Cromwell was moved to Manchester’s Wythenshawe Park.
But the railway line is also still in place, leading to the nearby Victoria Station.
The artist himself died in 1976, aged 88, with his works being commemorated in 1978 in the Brian and Michael number one hit song, Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs.
Frances Christie, Sotheby’s head of modern and postwar British art, said the painting was one of the most exciting Lowry works to emerge on the market in recent years.
“Lowry was a master at portraying the energy and vitality of everyday life and in Station Approach, Manchester he captures the hustle and bustle of the crowds heading home after a hard day’s work,” said Frances.
“It stands as an important document of one of the city’s historic landmarks – it is a superb example of Lowry at his very best.”
Station Approach, Manchester, will be one of the star items at Sotheby’s modern and postwar British art auction on June 10.
It is currently on display at the Lowry Art Gallery in Salford Quays until Sunday.
Lucille Royle, gallery interpreter, said: “Having the painting here is really special. It’s a great opportunity for the public to see a really fine example of Lowry’s work.
“Unfortunately there is only a short window of time to see it and after the sale it could disappear again for a generation.
“The painting has been up next to Going To The Match and has already been popular. We will be sorry to see it go.”
Lowry’s piece, Piccadilly Circus, London, fetched £5million in 2011.
Image courtesy of Sotheby’s, with thanks