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My Favorite Museum in Scotland: The Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum in Glasgow

The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow houses one of Europe’s greatest civic art collections, consisting of almost 10,000 items . Located in the beautiful surroundings of Kelvingrove Park in the city’s West End, the museum sits opposite the architecturally similar Kelvin Hall (which houses the Glasgow Museum of Transport and International Sports Arena) and near to Glasgow University. Loved by locals and tourists alike, the Kelvingrove vies with Edinburgh Castle to be Scotland’s most popular attraction, and is, by some margin, the most visited museum in the United Kingdom outside London. The magnificent red sandstone building was partly financed using the proceeds of the 1888 International Exhibition held in Kelvingrove Park. The gallery was designed by Sir John W. Simpson and E. J. Milner Allen and opened in 1901 as the palace of fine art for the Glasgow International Exhibition held that year. Built in a Spanish Baroque style, the outside facades are constructed from red sandstone from Lochabriggs Quarry near Dumfries (which provided much of the stone for Glasgow’s Victorian-era expansion), the interior uses a much lighter colored sandstone from Giffnock. The buildings facades are adorned with sculptures by George Frampton, Francis Derwent Wood and other contemporary British artists. A popular local myth states that after construction, the architect realized he had built the gallery the wrong way round (with the ‘front’ facing into Kelvingrove park, rather than onto Argyle Street) and consequently threw himself to his death from the roof. Not only were there actually 2 architects, it had always been intended that the building face into the park and the ‘rear’ of the building is so impressive, visitors only realize it is the back when they walk around and view the front. During the 6 month’s of the 1901 Glasgow International Exhibition, 11 million visitors passed through the new building. After the International Exhibition closed, the Kelvingrove reopened in 1902 as Glasgow’s civic museum and art gallery. The museum closed during World War II and its most valuable items were scattered, a fortuitous decision, when a German bomb detonated close by and caused significant damage to the building. The Kelvingrove reopened soon after the war ended and remained massively popular. In 2006, the Kelvingrove reopened after a three year refurbishment program and immediately tripled its visitor numbers to over 3 million in is first full year after reopening, making it the UK’s most visited museum outside London (only the National Gallery, Tate Modern and British Museum receive more visitors). The refurbishment work included opening up the first floor halls, creating new basement display and retail spaces and the complete restoration of the interior stonework. In addition to the galleries, visitors to the museum (which is free to enter) can enjoy its cafes and museum shops. The study centre and library are both open to the public for those who want to discover more about Glasgow’s museums and their collections. The museum hosts over 1.5 million visitors annually. Visit the museum’s website at … http://clyde-valley.com/glasgow/kelvingr.htm

The museum’s collections originally came from the McLellan Galleries and the old Kelvingrove House Museum. Donations and acquisitions over the years have increased the collection, including, most famously, “Christ of St. John of the Cross” by Salvador Dali, purchased direct from the artist by the museum’s then curator in the early 1950s for £8,200, a price considered very high at the time, even though Dali had been bargained down by a third from his original asking price and the sale included copyright to the image. The collections are displayed in 22 state of the art galleries. Amongst the artworks on display are paintings and sculpture from all periods of history, including works by Van Gogh (“Portrait of Alexander Reid” (once thought to have been a self-portrait)), Rembrandt, Botticelli, Turner, Millais, Whistler, Picasso, Monet (“Vetheuil”), Mary Cassatt *”The Sisters”) and L. S. Lowry (“V.E. Day”). Scottish works on display feature influential art from the Glasgow School of the late 19th and early 20th century including George Henry & E. A. Hornel, William Kennedy, Sir James Guthrie and “Motherless” by George Lawson. More contemporary work is also on display including Sophy Cave’s “Floating Heads” (more than 95 disconnected heads showing the whole rage of human expressions) hanging from the ceiling above the museum’s famous pipe-organ and Avril Paton’s “Windows in the West”. The Kelvingrove features more than just art, and amongst the natural history galleries, “Sir Roger” – a stuffed elephant (shot after a hormonal disorder made him extremely aggressive at Glasgow Zoo) – is a favorite with visitors, while a fully restored Spitfire hanging from the ceiling is a highlight of the scientific and technological displays. The decorative arts collection reflects Glasgow’s maritime trading heritage, as well as the expeditions of David Livingstone, with art and artifacts from dozens of cultures all over the world, including ceramics, glass, furniture, silverware, costumes, textiles and metal work. One gallery features a recreation of a Charles Rennie Mackintosh style dining room, emphasizing his importance to the history of art and design in Glasgow. The Kelvingrove is famous for its collection of arms and armor, including the ‘Avant’ armor (the earliest near-complete set of armor in the world, darting from around 1440), William Herbert, first Earl of Pembroke’s complete armor for man and horse (made by the Greenwich Royal Workshop in 1557) and rare medieval Scottish weapons amongst broad displays of European armor and weaponry.

The Kelvingrove has had a long reputation for holding major exhibitions, including the ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ (1998) and Frank Lloyd Wright (1999) shortly before it’s refurbishment. This tradition has continued since the museum reopened, with temporary exhibitions now held in a the RBS Exhibition Gallery. “Pioneering Painters: The Glasgow Boys 1880-1900” which was on display during 2010 set new records for visitor attendance, and showed 100 oil painting plus 50 works on paper by this influential Glaswegian group. The first exhibition dedicated to the Glasgow School since 1968, a condensed version of this exhibition is currently on view at the Royal Academy of Arts. The next exhibition to open at the Kelvingrove will be “Drawing (on) Riverside: An Exhibition by Patricia Cane”, which opens on April 15th and runs until August 14th 2011. Kelvingrove’s recent exhibition of work inspired by the construction of the Riverside Museum in Glasgow (housing the new museum of travel and transport) featured works by Patricia Cain, a Glasgow lawyer turned artist, who won the Aspect prize (Scotland’s premier prize for painting) in 2010 for her forensically detailed studies of the museum under construction. “Drawing (on) Riverside: An Exhibition by Patricia Cane” will be the artists first major solo exhibition and will draw on the works previously exhibited.


March 2, 2011 Posted by | Architecture, Art Exhibitions, Artists, Museum, News, photography, raw art gallery | 1 Comment