Category Archives: Christie’s

The Playground – A 20th Century Masterpiece

Is this the most highly valuated painting depicting a playground?

The Playground (oil on canvas) 46.4 x 62.2 cm., LS Lowry – 1945. Click image to enlarge.

At its last sale price of £553,000 The Playground is way beyond my ability to consider acquiring to grace a wall in our home. I’ll have to settle for an offset print.

The Playground was one of 21 works by the popular 20th century British painter LS Lowry that was sold by millionaire bookie Selwyn Demmy. Proceeds from the sale helped to finance Demmy’s Hunter’s Moon animal sanctuary. The auction at Christie’s in November 2010 brought in £5.2 million.

Demmy was born around the corner from Lowry in Salford, Greater Manchester. At the time of the sale Demmy reflected on the collection he had acquired over a nearly 20-year period. “For me, the works of Lowry have a very powerful personal resonance as they capture the heart and soul of the people and landscape which I have loved and lived in all my life.” He told BBC that his favourite piece of the lot was The Playground.

For my part, I love the bustle, the busyness – five kids whooshing down the slide in a perpetual zip of motion. The space is bursting with activity – a kid magnet. Adults are present but not in an overwhelming, take charge way. This truly looks like a kid’s show, kid’s play. In 1945, this painting shouted out hope, an end to six years of darkness and war in Europe. Children playing in the open without fear of air raids was a return to normalcy, a cause for celebration.

Here is the Christie’s description of The Playground excerpted from the news release publicizing the auction.

The Playground is a superb panoramic cityscape with enormous charm, illustrated right. The 1930s and 1940s are recognised as the greatest period in Lowry’s oeuvre, when his vision was strongest. This canvas, from 1945, is bustling with life and, as with the best of Lowry’s paintings, presents the viewer with a multiple of shared and private moments, with numerous smaller vignettes in front of, surrounding and beyond the central focus of the children’s slide. The playground’s fence in the foreground is a characteristic motif; many of Lowry’s works have a barrier in the foreground, in the form of railings or posts, which have been suggested as representing Lowry’s own loneliness: slightly removed from, and unable to become part of, the world around him. The bandstand in the left of the middle-ground anticipates the wonder of the Daisy Nook fairground, which Lowry depicted the following year. There is a lightness to the palette which contrasts the darker works of the earlier 1940s and the beautiful balance and dynamic of this composition with the painterly figures, joyous children playing and distant industrial cityscape make this substantial painting (18 ¼ x 24 ½ inches) very significant.

Imagine if the current owner were to place The Playground back on the market and maintain the momentum of Demmy’s gift of giving. They could donate the sales proceeds to non-profit organizations that support play. If he were still with us, that would probably bring a smile to Lowry’s face and maybe even all the ‘matchstick’ men in the painting.

More on LS Lowry.

Mr. Lowry, thanks for this fine playful piece.