An undiscovered work by LS Lowry has been unearthed by astonished curators hanging Tate Britain's new blockbuster retrospective of the "matchstick men" painter.
The painting, which dates from around 1922 when the artist would have been at the beginning of his career, was discovered on the back of another painting when it was unpacked.
It is believed to be an early version of two later works, A Town Square (1928), and Our Town from 1941, showing a crowded square in Lowry’s native Salford, the Evening Standard reports.
It reinforces the experts’ belief that Lowry was a determined perfectionist and not the simple artless painter of popular repute.
The find was on the reverse of The Mission Room 1937, on loan from Leamington Spa Art Gallery which knew about it — although no one else did as it appears in no official literature.
Professor Tim Clark said: “It’s absolutely intriguing.”
The curators had earlier been excited to discover an entry on Lowry in a 1931 French dictionary of contemporary artists that reproduced the painting A Town Square, a work now lost. The reference came from a time when Lowry was better known and exhibited in Paris than he was in London.
Professor Clark said the new find was “a bit of a muddle”. Lowry evidently knew that he had not got it right first time and returned to the subject.
“Obviously he was dissatisfied with it. But the way he returns to subjects and is a perfectionist is part of the story of Lowry,” he said. “The common image of Lowry mistakes deliberate simplification and schematisation for an artlessness and lack of skill.”
Unfortunately, the late discovery means there was no time to build a case for both sides to be seen but it will be shown online. A separate exhibition at the Lowry in Salford is showing works revealing Lowry’s darker side, with images of sexualised mannequins.