Maybe so. But Thompson, I sense, was a small-town boy at heart who was sensitive to perceived snobbery of big city swells.
“[Thompson’s] collecting and his business life proceeded simultaneously and with equal aggression. … It has … been said that he failed to be accepted by Pittsburgh’s social elite, yet another rebuff, and one from which he was not to recover. As John Richardson, the biographer of Picasso, suggested in his memoirs: ‘It was Dave's aggressiveness and bragging, not his humble origins that made him persona non grata …To get back at the old guard, Dave set about trouncing them in the field of modern art — the one field where the old guard would not have noticed or cared whether they had been trounced.’”
In a December 2007 blog posted by Al Filreis, an English professor at the University of Pennsyvania, he wrote:
“In ’59 he [Thompson] offered the entire collection to the city of Pittsburgh, and he threw in the house too — which the city, he said, could use as a ready-made museum.
“Pittsburgh said no. Not interested. Thanks, but no thanks.
“Angry and lovin’ a deal, Thompson promptly sold 97 — that's 97, yes — of his Klees to a dealer for more than $1 million, and then began to buy little-known moderns.”
The buyer was Ernst Beyeler, who would later become world-renowned.
Beyeler died in December 2010. The New York Times wrote in his obituary:
“Mr. Beyeler soon began buying undervalued Impressionist and modern works. In one of his biggest coups, he acquired, between 1959 and 1965, a trove of artworks from the Pittsburgh steel baron G. David Thompson, including 100 works by Klee, 90 by Giacometti and hundreds by Cézanne, Monet, Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Miró and others.”
If Thompson was unpredictable and aggressive, he was also a generous donor, according to Graham Shearing, who wrote: “The Carnegie Museum of Art has what some regard as its greatest work of art, Willem de Kooning's ‘Woman VI,’ 1953, as well as … some 80 other works of art given by Thompson over the years.”