JACK WEBSTER salutes the memory of Tom Honeyman, the former doctor who

became director of Glasgow Art Galleries and Museums and was

instrumental in bringing the great Burrell art collection and Dali's

Christ of St John of the Cross to the city.

IN the groping analysis of how Glasgow came to be the European City of

Culture, there has been a general conclusion that the Burrell Collection

was the catalyst.

The city which had washed off its industrial grime and reached out for

a better image in the wider world, seemed finally to be taken seriously

as a place of culture when it was able to claim and display that

remarkable gathering of one man's purchases.

But, in all the talk and planning, the pride and celebration, the name

of one man has been shamefully overlooked. Hardly anyone has mentioned

the late Dr Tom Honeyman, former director of Glasgow Art Galleries and


Yet was it not this distinguished son of the city, more than anyone,

who so popularised art among ordinary folk that they would queue to see

the latest exhibition?

Was it not Tom Honeyman who went to negotiate with his old

acquaintance, Salvador Dali, and persuade him not only to sell Glasgow

his much-publicised Christ of St John of the Cross but to grant those

reproduction rights which have since brought the city a small fortune?

And, if we are so convinced of the Burrell significance, have we

forgotten that Sir William Burrell himself made it fairly plain it was

the work of Tom Honeyman which persuaded him that the famous collection

should go to Glasgow, rather than Edinburgh or London?

Even before all that, the dynamic former pupil of Queen's Park School

had rendered such breadth of service to the city that, in 1943, he

became the second recipient of the St Mungo Prize, the highest honour

Glasgow can bestow.

Honeyman just happened to be part of that coincidence of brilliant

Glaswegians, like Denis Brogan, Walter Elliot and James Bridie. Just as

Bridie gave up being a doctor at the city's Victoria Infirmary to become

a famous playwright, so did Honeyman give up his medical practice in

Dennistoun to devote himself to art.

It was a tradition which became fashionable, taken up by such as that

other distinguished doctor-writer, A. J. Cronin.

When Bridie called on Honeyman to help him found the Citizens'

Theatre, it was just one more indication of the scope of a man who had

actually staged performances of early Bridie plays, in both Glasgow and

London, before they became well-known.

At an eightieth birthday party in Glasgow's Central Hotel, just weeks

before he died in 1971, Tom Honeyman expressed much of his own

personality and outlook when he told the assembled guests: ''Whatever

you do in this life, do it gloriously!''

It was a fitting finale to an extraordinary character, described by

the great Sir Denis Brogan as being ''the most interesting Glasgow man

active in public life since the First World War''.

On the one hand he could fume in disgust at the philistine nature of

bailies and bureacrats; and on the other could spread his joviality to

an audience who would marvel that he could reach such merriment on

orange juice. Whatever would he be like with a dram?

The Honeyman family had had enough of drams. Tom's grandfather, old

Sandy, was a building contractor in Ladybank, Fife, who drank himself

towards the poverty line and drove Tom's father to temperance, becoming

international secretary of the Order of Good Templars.

He had previously been a railway engine driver but now they were

settled in Battlefield Crescent, Glasgow, and young Tom went to Queen's

Park School.

An early sense of adventure was displayed in 1908 when, at the age of

17, he worked his passage on a tramp steamer to the River Plate. Back

home, he graduated in medicine from Glasgow University in 1916, in time

to serve in the First World War, with the RAMC at Salonika, where he

managed to do some painting and conduct art classes while looking after

the shell-shocked.

When it was over he settled to his Dennistoun practice, living first

in Whitehill Street before moving to a more spacious home in Lynedoch


His daughter Margaret, now Mrs Wilson of Cluny Avenue, Bearsden,

remembers childhood days in the 1920s: ''We had a drawing-room in which

you could put up a stage and, with my father's interest in the theatre,

he used to present amateur performances.

''Audiences would come to the house to see the Quest Players. My

mother and another lady provided the music. Sometimes he would put on a

James Bridie play at the Athenaeum, with the Albany Players.''

That company had been founded by Honeyman's own brother, Walter, who

went on to become a London actor-producer, better known as Murray


Bridie, who was still Dr O. H. Mavor of the Victoria Infirmary, lived

just round the corner, in Woodlands Terrace, where Honeyman would drop

in, to find the playwright with a pad on his knee shaping his next

masterpiece while his wife sat across the fireplace darning socks.

Bridie took a long time to decide on quitting medicine. When Honeyman

made a similar decision his parents were, not unnaturally, horrified at

his desertion of a noble profession after all those years of effort.

But in his student days he had regularly taken his lunchtime ''piece''

to the art gallery to pursue his growing passion. The die had been cast

and, in 1929, he gave up medicine to become a partner in the art dealing

firm of Reid and Lefevre, of West George Street, Glasgow.

He had already met old Alexander Reid, of the previous generation, a

formidable figure whose intriguing facets included the fact that he had

been with his friend, Van Gogh, when he cut off his ear!

Now he was meeting another name which would come to great prominence.

Sir William Burrell had long been a visitor to the shop in West George

Street, where he would enter into discussion and argument with old Reid.

Honeyman had his first contact with the Burrell collection when he

managed to sell Sir William a Crawhall drawing. The glow of satisfaction

dimmed a few hours later with a telegram which cancelled the purchase.

Burrell found he had enough of them already!

When the Glasgow lease expired in 1931, Reid and Levefre moved to

London and the Honeyman family set up home in Hampstead. Daughter

Margaret remembers an exciting social life in the 1930s, enhanced by the

theatrical connections of uncle Murray Macdonald, who was then at the

Old Vic with people like Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Flora

Robson, and Edith Evans.

In London, Tom Honeyman's enterprise flourished beyond art dealing to

the point where he turned West-End impresario, presenting plays by James

Bridie and his own brother. The latter production went to America, where

the lead was played by Katherine Hepburn no less.

Then came a request from the home city. Lord Provost Dollan wanted

Honeyman's advice on whom to appoint as director of the art gallery. The

exiled Scot was prospering in the art-dealing world, getting to know

people like Salvador Dali and earning around #5000 a year, a colossal

income before the Second World War.

After making recommendations, it dawned on him that he would rather

fancy the job himself, even if it meant a drastic drop in income to a

mere #800 a year. He had done quite well financially and now there was a

sense of mission. (Sir William Burrell had advocated him for the job,

for which Hugh MacDiarmid was also a candidate).

So the Honeymans returned in 1939, to a new home in Kensington Gate,

and the Kelvingrove boss faced a formidable task.

Sir Denis Brogan was interesting on the subject: ''Tom Honeyman knew

that many of the greatest examples of Scottish art in the city were

trash and he hoped that some of them would be destroyed in the war.

'Alas,' he lamented to me, 'everything was in perfect order!'

''But some of the paintings, given to lunatic asylums for keeping,

proved to be highly medicinal for the patients!

''Of course he did not revere the bailies as they thought they should

be revered. He wanted Glasgow to be again a centre of genuine artistic

culture and he largely succeeded in restoring some of its old glories.

''At a time when a great deal of the city's industry has gone downhill

and many old cultural institutions are muscle-bound, there can be no

doubt that the greatest civilising force in Glasgow has been Tom

Honeyman. He made few enemies who did not deserve his enmity. He also

made Glasgow flourish by the preaching of his word.''

Praise indeed from the famous Cambridge professor, for a man who had

made it his business to cultivate people with notable collections.

The basis of Glasgow's collection had been laid by city coachbuilder

Archibald McLennan. Honeyman had come to know William McInnes who, like

Burrell, had made his money in shipping and gathered a wealth of art.

As a mark of approval for Honeyman's appointment at the art gallery,

McInnes gave Matisse's ''Head of a Young Girl'' to the city and, on his

death in 1944, bequeathed his entire collection, including the Scottish

Colourists, Peploe, Hunter, and Cadell.

The Cargill family, founders of Burmah Oil, were another example of

the Glasgow business people who had shown taste and enterprise. Honeyman

was well acquainted with particular examples of Cezanne, Renoir, Van

Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, and others but was astounded to find them in the

home of David Cargill, near Lanark. Some pictures went to Glasgow Art


Meanwhile, Cargill's half-brother William, an eccentric bachelor

devoted to his mother, had some magnificent French paintings at his home

in Bridge of Weir.

Honeyman was retired by the time of William's death in 1962 but he had

hoped he would leave at least part of his collection to Glasgow.

However, Cargill had become disillusioned.

''When I see what they have done since you left, they are not getting

my collection,'' he told Honeyman. ''Just look at what they have done --

or not done -- with Burrell's magnificent gift!'

The Burrell gift is now so famous it is hard to believe there was such

a mundane beginning as a phone call to Honeyman's home, one December

evening in 1943.''On his instruction,'' he said later, ''I travelled in

great secrecy to his home at Hutton Castle, near Berwick, without the

foggiest idea of what it was all about.''

When told that Sir William and Lady Burrell had decided to give their

entire collection to Glasgow, rather than Edinburgh or London, he became

incoherent with excitement. As well as the vast treasure, there would be

a sum of #450,000 to provide a gallery for its display.

The rest is history, with the long delay before the collection was

finally housed, yet so recent that one wonders how so few people seem to

have been aware of Burrell in his lifetime. (He died only in 1958).

Honeyman's daughter Margaret recalls: ''Sir William said it was due to

my father's work that he had chosen Glasgow for the gift. Yet not

everyone in the corporation shared the view that it was a wonderul thing

for the city.

''That was the kind of climate in which my father had to work -- and

he was often exasperated with bureaucrats, having to fight for every

penny from Glasgow Corporation. He was so fed up in 1946 that he

resigned and Burrell was among those who persuaded him otherwise.''

But of all the dramas of his life, Tom Honeyman caused no greater stir

than with his purchase of Dali's Christ on the Cross. It began one day

in December, 1951, when he happened to be in the Lefevre Gallery in

London. The place was crowded and the big attraction was Dali's picture.

Honeyman was deeply moved by it. He had known the artist for 25 years

and knew he had recently taken to religious themes. Back in Glasgow he

stirred municipal interest, secured allies like Dali's New York agent,

Georges Keller, who told the artist of Glasgow's importance and

persuaded him to negotiate the deal before the picture was shown in

Madrid and Basle, as planned.

Glasgow could have had big competition. But, incredibly, Honeyman

landed what was to become a famous Dali picture for #8200, the minimum

the artist was prepared to accept. Even more incredibly, he secured the

print reproduction rights, which have since brought the city a fortune

in royalties.

None of that prevented a public outcry at the time, to do with both

the price paid and the merit of the picture itself. One wonders what it

would fetch today.

''The Dali painting helped to put Glasgow on the artistic map,'' says

Margaret Wilson. ''But, if my father wanted to be remembered for

anything, it was much more for the French Impressionists which came in

his time. That gave the city the finest collection of its kind outside


So what kind of a man was her father?

''You could say he was a showman -- but not for himself. His mission

in life was to put Glasgow on the map artistically. He wanted ordinary

people to see great paintings.

''So he put on exhibitions, such as the Queen's wedding dress, and

some art people thought that was the end. But his view was that, if he

got them inside the art gallery, they would stay to see other things.

''He put on exhibitions of Picasso, Matisse, Van Gogh and so on -- and

the people of Glasgow were queueing down the street. He started a

Schools Museum Service, to bring in the children, and a Glasgow Art

Gallery and Museum Association.

''He stirred an interest in art among the general public and, when the

Burrell Collection was gifted, he declared that this would bring a

cultural renaissance to Glasgow.

''Well, now it has happened. But I agree, there hasn't been any

acknowledgement of his work. Nobody has come to ask us about him.''

Sir Norman Macfarlane, popular patron of the arts, told me: ''There

has been a strange reluctance to say that Tom Honeyman was a big figure.

But he was -- and it is important at this time to say so.''

Margaret Wilson has her own precious memories of a wonderful father,

recalling Saturday evenings in the house, after the orchestra, or James

Bridie and his wife coming to play charades.

Margaret's brother Tim, a publisher for the Church of Scotland, died

two years ago and her younger brother, Grant, is a surgeon in Ontario.

Both sons inherited a public-spirited nature from their father.

Tom Honeyman did not end up a wealthy man. He maintained a good

standard of living but would sell some paintings of his own to see a son

through university. Margaret remembers a Derain which went for #400 and

is now a priceless possession of the Tate Gallery!

But he was rich in experience and friendships. Three weeks after that

speech on his eightieth birthday, he and Mrs Honeyman went for a holiday

in Perthshire, where he died suddenly. His wife died six weeks later.

Near Kelvingrove there is a memorial garden to Tom Honeyman, within

sight of the university, where he was both student and rector, the

Western Infirmary, where he was a houseman, and the art gallery, which

was the centre of his achievements.

Sadly, the memorial plaque is frequently obscured these days by winos,

who have found a rendezvous. But that may be no more than a symbol of

what has happened to a man who should have had a pedestal in this very

special year when Glasgow has finally achieved his cultural dream.