High Lowry price

Lowry painting of historic Welsh synagogue goes for £277,000

Guide price for work of LS Lowry of Merthyr Tydfil Synagogue was £180,000; Jewish Heritage Foundation hopes to contact purchaser about plans for building

LS Lowry's 1960 painting of the Merthyr-Tydfil synagogue
LS Lowry's 1960 painting of the Merthyr-Tydfil synagogue

A painting by an iconic British artist of a now-defunct Welsh synagogue exceeded expectations when it sold at auction for £277,000 ($362,957), the BBC reported Monday.

The work by LS Lowry depicts a group, rendered in his signature matchstick people style, admiring the neo-gothic Merthyr Tydfil Synagogue.

It is dated 1960, a time when the building was still operating as a synagogue. Lowry called it “Old Church.”

After it fell into disuse and then alternative use, the building was eventually bought in 2019 by the London-based Foundation for Jewish Heritage, which intends to turn it into a heritage center.

“We were not aware of this Lowry painting and are excited that it has come to light,” foundation chief executive Michael Mail said in a statement.

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

The Old Synagogue in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales. (Foundation of Jewish Heritage)

Mail said the foundation hopes to find out who bought the painting in order to “introduce ourselves and our project.”

Christie’s auction house, which conducted the sale, had set a guide price of up to £180,000 for the painting.

The auctioneers said that Lowry saw the building when he visited Wales, likely in the company of his friend and patron Monty Bloom. The painting accurately depicts the synagogue, it said, and noted that places of worship feature in many of Lowry’s works.

“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,” Christie’s said.

The Victorian stone structure was built in 1872 in Gothic Revival style. The building, which last functioned as a synagogue in 1983, is considered one of the United Kingdom’s most important and has been awarded Grade II listed status out of three distinctions ranked in ascending order of significance.

The tall and narrow building, whose imposing double spires form a vestibule of sorts in front of the main hall, used to be the heart of a community with some 400 members in the first half of the 20th century.

But it fell into disuse as the population of the Jewish communities of Britain gradually reconsolidated itself, at the expense of far-flung congregations, around the three main cities of London, Manchester and Newcastle.

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