From the early 1900s until the 1940s, Sydney Lough Thompson was New Zealand’s most respected and successful artist.
Born at Oxford, near the Waimakariri Gorge in Canterbury, Thompson expressed an interest in art from an early age and was particularly inspired by the brooding, turbulent landscapes of the Otira Gorge by Petrus Van der Velden.
A promising talent, Thompson attended Canterbury College School of Art, Christchurch, New Zealand, from 1895 and was also privately tutored by Petrus van der Velden (1895-1898). He travelled to Europe in 1900, enrolling at the Académie Julian in Paris and was introduced to plein-air impressionist painting at Concarneau, Brittany (1902-04) where he subsequently executed some the most well regarded works in his oeuvre.
It was in Concarneau, Brittany that Thompson began focusing on ports, which came alive in his paintings as places that absorbed and expressed the personalities of the sailors and fishermen who made and used them.
In 1904, Thompson returned to Christchurch and was appointed Life Master at the School of Art, where he taught and concentrated on portraiture until 1911. He returned again to Europe and resumed his artistic studies under the guidance of Lucien Simon in Paris, who appears to have had a seminal influence on both Frances Hodgkins and Sydney Lough Thompson. Thompson’s technique became broader and stronger in his later years and his use of colour became increasingly confident, rich and vibrant.
Exhibiting in Europe and New Zealand, his work was eagerly sought after by art societies and collectors. Thompson spent many years painting in France, living in Brittany but spending the autumn and winter months in Provence.
Thompson was an influential artist, exhibiting over seven decades and up to the 1930s, introducing New Zealand artists to developments in European painting. He was honoured with an OBE in 1937.
Sydney Lough Thompson died in Concarneau in 1973. His work is held in all major public art galleries in New Zealand.