Northern Art is on the rise. As the North strives to become a force to be reckoned with in the UK’s economic landscape, the region’s art at least is increasingly sought after on the national stage. After a decade of steady growth at auction, the prices regularly seen for major Northern Artists reflect the vital part art plays celebrating the character and history of the region.
The term ‘Northern Art’ embraces the work of a multitude of 20th century and contemporary artists who not only live and work in the North, but most importantly take our region as their primary source of inspiration. From factories to pleasure beaches and rows of terraced houses, these are artists who capture little slices of everyday life and elevate them into an artform.
The movement is embodied by a group of artists from the North West, led by the unassailable talent of L.S. Lowry and his ‘matchstick’ men. Lowry had an extraordinary ability to record a seemingly mundane moment in industrial Manchester with his distinctive short-hand technique, describing a whole way of life with just a few strokes of his brush or pen.
Lowry’s success is widely known; during his lifetime he exhibited in commercial galleries and exhibitions, his work entered national collections and his place in Britain’s artistic heritage was cemented by a major retrospective at Tate Britain in 2013. His works have seen continuous success at auction since his death, with both original works and limited edition signed prints selling for astonishing figures. Indeed, a world record for a Lowry print was achieved at Tennants Auctioneers in North Yorkshire, when a signed print of Lowry’s iconic Going to the Match sold for £28,160 (including premium).
Following in Lowry’s footsteps were the likes of Helen Layfield Bradley, Brian ‘Braaq’ Shields and Harold Riley, whose works are now seeing steadily rising prices at auction. Helen Layfield Bradley (1900-1979) only began painting in her sixties but was encouraged by Lowry who suggested she painted memories of her childhood in Edwardian Lancashire. Her work now commands tens of thousands of pounds. Her style is nostalgic and charming, filled with characters and narrative.
Working in the same vein but depicting life in the North in the second half of the century is Brian Shields, commonly known as Braaq. Admired for its vivacity, humour and ability to capture the spirit of the North, Braaq’s work regularly sells for £10,000 plus at auction. Lowry’s great friend and sometime collaborator Harold Riles has had increasing attention at auction too. Riley studied at the prestigious Slade School of Art in London before travelling around Europe on art scholarships, however, like so many Northern artists, he was drawn back to his home in Salford. A successful portraitist and known for his depictions of sporting life in the North, Riley himself regards his depictions of Manchester as his most important works.
Over the last ten years not only have prices been rising, but there is now a greater geographical diversity of buyer’s bidding for their favourite Northern artists. As the appreciation of Northern Art spreads, increasing numbers of buyers from outside the region are looking to collect a slice of the North. However, a strong core of private collectors from the North still battle it out in the saleroom, which is indicative of the strong sense of pride for homeland that is so evident in the region. Certainly, the North has a distinctive artistic character and voice, one that is only set to get louder.
To learn more about buying and selling Northern Art at auction, contact Tennants Auctioneers on 01969 623780 or visit www.tennants.co.uk/departments/northernart