Born in Gorbals, Glasgow, the son of engine driver Thomas Honeyman (1858–1934) and Elspeth Smith (1860–1937), Tom Honeyman studied medicine at Glasgow prior to distinguished service with the RAMC overseas in the First World War. He practised medicine in the East End of Glasgow, before moving to London to become an art dealer at the Lefevre Gallery. In London he met many great artists and when Glasgow Corporation were looking for a new Director for their Kelvingrove Art Gallery they consulted Honeyman about possible candidates. He eventually decided he might like the job. Taking up the post in 1939. Honeyman went on to make an enormous contribution to artistic and cultural life of Glasgow during his 15 years in the post. He greatly increased the standing and profile of the Glasgow Art Galleries through clever publicity and successful exhibitions which, for example, brought queues to see Van Gogh's paintings, and numerous other special exhibitions.
His art purchases were prudent and wise, buying works which have subsequently gained enormously in value. In 1952, Honeyman became famous for his purchase of Salvador Dalí's Christ of St. John of the Cross. A controversial purchase at the time, both because of its exceptional cost (£8,200) and contemporary style, it hung for many years in Kelvingrove where it still hangs. It is one of the many jewels of the city's art collection and has proven commercially remunerative, with displays and reproduction fees covering the original cost several times over. His reputation was such that he was able to attract major gifts to the gallery, including that of Sir William Burrell (1861–1958) in 1944. It is known internationally as the Burrell Collection. In the same year he was instrumental in establishing the Glasgow Art Galleries & Museums Association, an independent charitable society, with membership open to all, to encourage and enhance the enjoyment and public use of art galleries and museums. It continues today as the Friends of Glasgow Museums. In 1948 he originated the publication by the association of the quarterly arts magazine The Scottish Art Review which continued for over 40 years.
In 1953 he was elected Rector of the University of Glasgow. Yet, Honeyman, with great experience and the support of the public, was forced to leave his post in 1954 having lost the support of his political master, the new chairman of the Glasgow Corporation Art Committee.
Passionate about the cultural life of Glasgow, Honeyman, in partnership with playwright James Bridie and cinema entrepreuner George Singleton, founded the Glasgow Citizen's Theatre. He was also involved in setting up the Scottish Tourist Board. Honeyman wrote an autobiographical book, largely memoirs of his time as Director of the Art Gallery, called Art and Audacity (Collins, 1971). He was the subject of a further book From Dali to Burrell; The Tom Honeyman Story by Jack Webster, published in 1997 by Black &White.
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