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Rarely seen L S Lowry painting of Merthyr Tydfil synagogue auctioned by Christie’s

29 Mar 2022 3 minute read
Old Church, Merthyr-Tydfil by Laurence Stephen Lowry, R.A. (1887-1976)

A rarely seen 1960 painting of the former Merthyr Tydfil synagogue in Wales by L S Lowry has just been auctioned by Christies, selling for just over £277,000.

The striking features of the Victorian grade II listed synagogue have attracted various artists over the years. Lowry encountered the synagogue on a visit to the south Wales town.

The current owners of the synagogue building, the Foundation for Jewish Heritage, are making enquiries to discover who the latest purchaser of this painting is.

Michael Mail, Foundation Chief Executive, said: “We were not aware of this Lowry painting and are excited that it has come to light.”

“It is wonderful to think that the synagogue, and Merthyr, is part of L S Lowry’s body of work and that his famous matchstick characters include Merthyr’s very own, captured admiring the synagogue,” he said.

“We are hoping to establish who the new owner of the painting is, so we can introduce ourselves and our project.”

‘Looming’

The entire painting, which is oil on canvas and 24 x 20 in. (61 x 50.8 cm.)

Christie’s auction house had set a guide price of up to £180,000 for the painting, which had previously been kept at the Lefevre Gallery, London.

“Lowry was fascinated by churches and places of worship, and they appear in paintings and drawings repeatedly throughout his career,” Christie’s said.

“The church was a focal point of the urban landscape and, for Lowry, they had as much possibility of drawing a crowd to sketch as a factory, a mill, or the local cinema or fish and chip shop.

“To the artist they represented a symbol of permanence in an ever-changing urban landscape, so much so that Lowry often included his favourite Manchester churches in a recognisable format in composite landscapes representing the northern scene.

“Whenever Lowry travelled further afield and around the British Isles with friends, and during his regular trips after his retirement, he always depicted the local church, which came as naturally to him as sketching the people and the houses.

“The looming spectre of the church on the horizon, allowed Lowry to create his favoured viewpoint of a building which rises about a central road, flanked by houses and pavements, with figures approaching.

“In the present work, a small group of people stand in the middle of the road (Lowry eschewed traffic save for the occasional horse ambulance, or the contraption – an invalid carriage), dwarfed by the structures around them, staring up at a single figure who serves to emphasise the imposing majesty of the building above him. The curving pavement and circular staircase contrast sharply with the lines and symmetry of the church on the horizon.

“Lowry encountered this building on a visit to Wales, probably with his friend and patron, Monty Bloom, and it is an accurate depiction of the Synagogue at Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales.

“In recent times this Grade II listed building from 1877 has been preserved as a Welsh Jewish Heritage Centre, having been identified as among the most important 16 synagogues at risk in Europe.”

Chris Andrews. The historical Merthyr Synagogue. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The building ceased to function as a synagogue in 1983. It was bought in 2019 by the Foundation with the plan to turn the site into a Welsh Jewish Heritage Centre. A submission was made last month to the National Lottery Heritage Fund.


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Stephen Owen
Stephen Owen
6 months ago

Interesting

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
6 months ago

I hope whoever bought this wonderful painting is going to hang it, at least for a while, in the planned Jewish Heritage Centre…

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