Peter Tomory: Distinguished art historian remembered





Art history took Peter Tomory all over the world, just as earlier Scots expatriates travelled as engineers and medical men in the service of Empire. Indeed, because his father was in the Royal Army Medical Corps, Tomory was born in Hong Kong and partly brought up in India. He was at school near London, and regular visits to the Tate and British Museum, as well as one to the Alte Pinakothek gallery in Munich while on a skiing trip in 1938, kindled his interest in art history.

The Second World War intervened and Tomory soon joined the Royal Navy, into which he was commissioned and served for five and a half years, part of the time on patrol along the North African coast and also on the Murmansk run. In 1946 he started as an undergraduate at Edinburgh University, and by a close scrutiny of the university regulations managed to make art history his major subject.

Tomory's visit to Munich and his knowledge of Peter Thoene's Penguin Modern German Art were to serve him well on graduation, as they impressed Hans Hess, the formidable curator of York City Art Gallery, where Tomory began as Assistant Curator in January 1950. He was thrown in at the deep end, being given immediate responsibility for organising the exhibition "Masterpieces from Yorkshire Houses", the gallery's contribution to the Festival of Britain in 1951.

On his appointment, Hess told Tomory that he did not expect him to stay more than two years; at the same time he made sure that Tomory had a thorough grounding in all aspects of museum management, and as a result he was appointed to a more senior post at Leicester Art Gallery at the end of 1951. Hess knew the leading figures in the worlds of contemporary art and of art history, many of whom came to York, and this laid the foundation of the wide range of contacts which Tomory built up. In the middle of 1954 he moved on to the Arts Council in London, working on touring exhibitions, and in 1956 he took up the post of director of Auckland City Art Gallery.



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