The Watford Museum sculpture collection is predominantly made up of works in bronze, copper and steel, adopting many different styles in welding and patination. The eldest was produced during the 19th century with others ranging through the late 20th century. For a number of the sculptures size and scale are significant characteristics, with works as small as 15cm tall compared with an impressive Shire horse, named Hercules, standing at nearly 80cm. There are pieces relating directly to Watford’s history, including busts of Mary Bromet, and of the first and second Mayors of the Borough. However, the majority of the works were donated by Arnold F Thompson, a past Watford resident.
Thompson was a significant local collector and his immense generosity means he is responsible for gifting 31 of the 37 sculptures in the Watford collection. Born in 1910, Arnold Thompson grew up in Watford where he attended the Boys Grammar School. In 1936, he began his working career with John Dickinson and Co., the paper manufacturers at Nash Mill. He moved to their London office and finally to Nottingham, where he became Area Manager. On his retirement in 1973 he received a long service certificate which hangs in the museum.
While working in London, Thompson began collecting sculpture. His first purchase was Epstein’s bust of Olive which he found at Cameo Corner in Museum Street, opposite the British Museum. Its owner, Moshe Oyyed introduced Thompson to Epstein, marking the beginning of their long relationship, fuelled by their mutual love of African an Oceanic sculpture. A second sculpture came to Thompson’s attention when he visited the Regional and Midland Group of Artists and Designers, held in Nottingham. This was the young Ronald Pope, whom he sought out at his remote cottage in Derbyshire. Thompson forged another close friendship with Pope lasting until his death in 1995 and collected many works by the sculptor, now in the collection.
Watford Museum is honoured to have been the recipient of such a significant collection, donated in four parts during the 1980s.