Artworld personality

Born: April 14, 1923; Died: July 2, 2011.

Margaret Wilson, who has died at 88, was the last of the family of Dr Tom Honeyman, the legendary director of Kelvingrove Art Gallery, who persuaded Salvador Dali to sell Glasgow his most famous painting, Christ of St John of the Cross, for a mere £8200.

In fact her whole life was influenced by her proximity to one of the great Glaswegians of the 20th century. When she was born, her father was a GP in the east end of Glasgow, with ambitions to be a consultant.

But in 1929 Dr Honeyman’s interest in art brought about a dramatic change in the family fortunes. When he was invited to leave medicine and become an art dealer with Reid and Lefevre in London, they moved to Hampstead and into a very different world.

HIs daughter became a pupil at the famous St Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith, where Gustav Holst had just been succeeded as director of music by Ralph Vaughan Williams and then Herbert Howell.

The Honeymans thought they recognised their elderly neighbour, who turned out to be none other than Sigmund Freud. More and more they mixed in a circle of distinguished people.

Dr Honeyman was gaining fame in Paris and New York, with acquaintances like Picasso, Matisse and, of course, Dali. The Honeyman home became the venue of memorable garden parties.

But with the turmoil of the Second World War, Dr Honeyman was tempted back to his native Glasgow, as director of Kelvingrove, and is widely credited with having turned it into the world-famous gallery it is today.

Meanwhile, Margaret’s uncle, Murray Macdonald, became a leading impresario of the West End theatre. And when his stage acquaintances were coming to perform in Glasgow, he assured them they would be welcome guests in the Honeyman home. Thus she would find herself serving breakfast in bed to such luminaries as Dame Sybil Thorndike, Dame Edith Evans and one of her favourite people, Joyce Grenfell, with whom she was especially friendly.

Then came the phone-call from Sir William Burrell, to tell her father that, because of his sterling efforts for their native city, he would be leaving his famous Burrell Collection to Glasgow, instead of Edinburgh or London as intended. That would become the catalyst for Glasgow becoming the European City of Culture in 1990.

Then came that other sensation in 1951, when Dali produced his controversial painting of Christ.

Critics condemned it but the public loved it. And while the arguments raged, Dr Honeyman quietly engineered the bargain of a lifetime by negotiating its sale to Glasgow for just £8200.

Meanwhile Margaret had served in the WAAFs during the war and, on demobilisation, became secretary to Craigie Annan, the Glasgow art dealer. She herself was no mean painter. Then she returned to London to work in the drama department of the Arts Council. And in 1950 she married Jim Wilson, a well-known Glasgow solicitor, and they had two daughters.

Her elder brother Tim became a publisher with Collins in Glasgow but saw the main thrust of his career with the Church of Scotland, as publishing manager of its St Andrews Press in Edinburgh. Her brother Grant was a surgeon in Ontario.

In later life she arranged for a biography of her beloved father, which was published as From Dali to Burrell. And just last year that book was translated into a stage production with the same name, which was performed in the spectacular setting of Kelvingrove Art Gallery. With her health deteriorating, that was one of the most joyful moments of her life, enhanced by the appearance of a favourite actor, Bill Paterson, in the leading role.

Margaret Wilson was predeceased by her husband and her elder daughter, Seonaid Primrose, in Aberdeen. She is survived by her daughter Elizabeth, in Glasgow.