Culture: If owning a Lowry makes you feel insecure, there's only thing to do...

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The Independent Online
This month, LS Lowry's `Industrial Landscape' comes up for sale. The vendor preferred to remain anonymous but is, as Sameena Ahmad discovered, a chemical company weary of being reminded of its northern roots by a painting that made it nervous

Though Industrial Landscape is being auctioned anonymously, The Independent understands that the company selling, is British fine chemicals giant, Laporte. Though Laporte is now firmly in the high-tech age, making chemicals for the silicon wafers used in computers, the company has its roots in the industrial North, where it started out making bleach for straw used by milliners.

Laurence Stephen Lowry is celebrated for his bleak, atmospheric paintings of matchstick figures and scenes of industrial life in his native Manchester and Salford. Laporte snapped up his oil painting of smoking factory stacks at Christie's in 1983, where it was being auctioned by the estate of the writer Dame Rebecca West. She had bought the piece, one of Lowry's later works completed in 1944 when he was 57, during the Second World War.

Laporte originally paid about pounds 40,000 for the picture (a detail of which is pictured left), which it hung in its former headquarters, a traditional block in Bedford Square, London. Christie's believes the painting, which measures 21in by 24in, could now fetch up to pounds 300,000 at the auction in London on 27 November.

A Christie's spokesman said: "There hasn't been such an important industrial landscape on the market for years."

Laporte's recently-installed chief executive Jim Leng, says the proceeds from the sale will be used to buy art to decorate the company's smart, new London offices, the top two floors of Nations House in Wigmore Street behind Selfridges store, which Laporte moved into five weeks ago.

"We haven't decided what we will buy in place of the Lowry," he said. "I thought I'd let everyone submit their own ideas."

Though both Mr Leng and his wife are great fans of Lowry, and own some rare Lowry prints, Mr Leng says he was quite relieved to see the painting go.

"We kept worrying that someone would come in off the street and steal it. I got into the habit of checking every day with my secretary that it was still there. Once the valuers took it away, my secretary, who didn't know it was being sold, nearly had fit when she saw the blank space on the wall," he said. Though his wife has threatened to buy the painting herself, he said his family would not be bidding.

Together with Industrial Landscape, which could fetch more than pounds 200,000, Christie's is auctioning seven other Lowry oils, many from the painter's first overseas exhibition at the Salon in Paris in 1930.

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