Rare work of Oldham’s ‘northern artist’ John Thompson exhibited in Hale

By Charlie Bennett

Rare and unseen works by Oldham’s ‘northern artist’ John Thompson are being shown in a Hale art gallery’s commemorative exhibition.

The Clark Art Gallery in Hale, Cheshire, is displaying both famous and previously unseen work from John Thompson’s estate from March 22 until April 19. It’s the largest exhibition ever held for the Oldham-born artist’s work.

Gallery owner Bill Clark says that Thompson was inspired by an image from inter-war New York, wherein a set of men were rowed up in a soup kitchen queue. He realised that by taking the people out of their historical environment, a compelling ambiguity is developed. This began his famous ‘Group Series’; just as L.S. Lowry is known for his matchstick men, John Thompson is now associated with his emblematic men in flat caps.

This interest in ambiguity is also why Thompson rarely titled his paintings, preferring instead to number them.

“He didn’t want the titles to contextualise the work,” Mr Clark explained. “Three different people can look at one of his paintings, and they can respond with three different interpretations.”

Thompson didn’t become a full-time artist until he was 56, and ‘he hit it big time during his last seven years’, according to his website. Thompson’s distinctively northern paintings have a wide enough appeal to appear everywhere from the TV show Footballers’ Wives to the House of Lords’ walls in Westminster. Thompson’s paintings have previously sold up to £12,500 and experts are predicting prices of his works will increase in the coming years.

Mr Clark feels they have wide appeal because people relate to them. He said: “I’ve heard people say, ‘Oh it looks just like my granny and my granddad’; it often reminds people of their families.”

He added: “But they don’t depict real places. It was all from his imagination. But people think they recognise them.”

Thompson died aged 87 last July after a battle with cancer. This new exhibition will show that he ‘could paint anything,’ including landscapes, nudes, portraits, still lifes and sketches. Mr Clark has held sell-out shows featuring Thompson’s work before in Manchester, London, Falmouth, Burford and Dublin. He says that this exhibition is expecting up to 500 people this time.

“The exhibition is a way of saying farewell to an amazing artist and a remarkable man,” he said. “He was a great character – nobody will ever fill John’s shoes, and cap for that matter.”

For more information visit

Related Articles