Colin Gleadell tells the story of a man who rose from humble beginnings, built a business on collecting waste and “spent nine tenths of what he earned on owning Lowrys.” And only LS Lowry paintings. What’s more, he kept on buying until the end, including a £5.6m work from the Forte sale that reset market expectations around Lowry.
Now, Sotheby’s is selling 14 works during a March auction and hopes to make £20m:
Born in 1945, Tony Thompson came from a humble working-class background; some say he started as a rag-and-bone man. But unlike the fictional Harold Steptoe, he started a business in 1967 (A J Thompson, in Newmarket) that was to become the market leader in East Anglia with a fleet of purpose-built vehicles handling some 500 tons of waste per week. By 1982, he had made enough money to buy his first Lowry, a painting of street musicians, at Sotheby’s for £16,000. It is now expected to fetch between £600,000 and £800,000.
Lowry has always appealed to self-made men, but Thompson must be unique among them in that he bought only Lowry – no other artist. His first purchase then led to another – a view of children going to school, bought in 1984 for £15,000 and now valued at £600,000 to £800,000 – and another, a few days later, of the steps at Peel Park in Salford, which cost £15,000 and is now estimated at between £400,000 and £600,000.