The Honeyman Years

The Honeyman Years

Dr Tom J Honeyman (1891-1971) was appointed as Director of Museums in 1939. This was the beginning of an exciting era at Kelvingrove as he was responsible for a series of successful exhibitions. Publicity for these helped Kelvingrove gain a higher profile and the collection of French paintings assumed international importance.

During his tenure as Director, Dr Honeyman oversaw a number of key developments for the city’s museums service, including:

  • founding of the Schools Museum Service (now the Museums Education Service) in 1941. The service was the first of its kind in Britain and funded by the then Glasgow Corporation Education Department. This led to a huge increase in interest in the collection and in the number of visits by young people.
  • formation of The Glasgow Art Gallery and Museums Association (now Friends of Glasgow Museums) in 1944, which generated a lively interest in events, lectures and activities inspired by the collection.

Two key exhibitions also took place during the Honeyman era: Picasso–Matisse in 1946 and Van Gogh in 1948.  The high quality of the art on display was reflected in the queues of visitors snaking round the outside of the gallery waiting to get in. The Van Gogh exhibition brought in 104,000 visitors – a record for a fine art exhibition at Kelvingrove, which remained unbeaten until the Glasgow Boys exhibition in 2010 saw more than 120,000 people through the doors.

Dr Honeyman is perhaps best remembered as ‘The man who bought the Dali’, and subsequently put Kelvingrove firmly back on the map. In what was to arguably become his greatest moment, Dr Honeyman negotiated the purchase of Dali's iconic Christ of St John of the Cross, which had only been painted in the previous year. Dr Honeyman also very astutely negotiated purchase of the copyright to the painting. The remainder of the 1901 Exhibition Surplus Fund was used to meet the price of £8,200. The public generally accepted the picture with pride and wonderment and it has continued to draw visitors to Kelvingrove ever since. In 2005, it was voted Scotland’s favourite painting in a poll organised by The Herald newspaper.

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