Lowry painting owned by British DNA scientist sells for £2.6 million

A painting by British artist LS Lowry that had disappeared from public view for 70 years has been sold for more than £2.6 million.

"The Mill, Pendlebury" had been in the possession of one of the pioneers of DNA research, Dr Leonard D Hamilton.

The Manchester-born scientist had taken the painting with him to the US when he moved in 1949, leaving the art world unaware the piece even existed.

The painting was then rediscovered following the death of Dr Hamilton in August last year.

On Tuesday evening at London auction house Christies, the piece was sold to a private collector for £2.65 million, well above the £700,000 to £1 million it had been expected to fetch.

Like the majority of Lowry’s work, "The Mill, Pendlebury" is inspired by the mills, factories, chimney stacks and bustle of the country’s industrial heartlands.

But it features clearly defined figures of families enjoying a day out, instead of the hoards of vaguer "matchstick" men in the shadow of the urban landscape that recur in many of his paintings.

The sale of LS Lowry’s The Mill, Pendlebury at London auction house Christies Credit: Christies/PA

Nick Orchard, head of Modern British Art at Christies, said the composition of the painting "just ticks all the boxes".

"The figures are a lot more differentiated than in other works, although it is not untypical from Lowry’s work from this period, but the figures add the emotion to the painting.

"It’s about the people and their ease in an industrial setting. It’s a happy painting – it has to be a Saturday or a Sunday because the men are not at work, they’re pushing the prams.

“The children are not at school, they’re playing cricket.”

He added: “It’s Britain at play, which is a nice thing to see.”

Drs. Francis Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins, left to right, built on Dr Hamilton's work to reveal DNA's double-helix structure. Credit: AP

Mr Orchard said the painting’s history would also have been a draw for collectors.

Dr Leonard D Hamilton bought the painting in the early stages of Lowry’s career and hung it in his room while studying medicine at the University of Oxford.

The piece then travelled to New York with Dr Hamilton who, through his work at the Sloan Kettering Institute, went on to develop a technique for extracting DNA.

The rich DNA samples created by his technique allowed Maurice Wilkins of King’s College London to generate the X-ray crystallography images from which went on to reveal DNA’s double-helix structure.

The discovery earned Mr Wilkins, James Watson and Francis Crick the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.