Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
The large, impressive and imposing red sandstone building in Kelvingrove Park is the most visited museum in the UK outside London and also Scotland’s most popular free attraction. Built in mostly Spanish baroque style for the 1901 International Exhibition, partially with the profits of the 1888 International Exhibition (construction went over budget and ended up costing over £250,000), the building initially housed the Fine Arts Section for the exhibition. The building itself is a work of art, adorned with a number statues, including a large one of St Mungo on the front facing the University of Glasgow. At night the building is one of the most colourful in the city and nicely complimenting the University. I’ve featured that night view of the two buildings previously.
Between 2003 and 2006 the Kelvingrove was closed to undergo a three-year, £28 million restoration, to restore the building’s Victorian interior to its original splendour. The Museum was reopened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 11 July 2006 and in just six short months overtook Edinburgh Castle as Scotland’s most popular tourist destination. Before the restoration more than 1 million people regularly visited the museum each year and that number has gone up since it reopened.
It’s hard to write about a museum and an art gallery without mentioning what treasures lie within. The Kelvingrove has some 8,000 exhibits on display, up from 4,000 before the refurbishment, with hundreds of thousands of specimens, so I won’t list them all here. Instead of separating the art and museum aspects of the Kelvingrove, the collections are mixed, with one wing dedicated to “Life” and the other to “Expression”, with individual galleries themed. The centrepiece of the vast central hall is a massive pipe organ, built by Lewis and Co., for the 1901 International Exhibition, with daily organ recitals.
Spread around the building are objects from overseas expeditions by such famous explorers as David Livingstone, Charles Darwin and Captain Cook, as well as art and artefacts from dozens of cultures all over the world to which Glasgow traders, missionaries, soldiers and engineers had travelled to. The collections of paintings include works from Italian, Dutch Old Master and Renaissance, French Impressionist and post-Impressionist artists such as Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Monet, Botticelli, Turner and Whistler. One of the top three collections of arms and armour in the world is in the Kelvingrove and contains many rare or unique pieces ranging from the ancient world to present. Late 19th and early 20th century Scottish art, including the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the ‘Glasgow Style’ school of artists are featured, including furniture and other works by Mackintosh. The natural history of Scotland and the records of animal kingdom are displayed, from prehistoric fossils to garden birds. Archeology collections range from the West of Scotland to Ancient Egypt. There is also a temporary exhibition hall downstairs which currently is displaying arts from “The Glasgow Boys” and previously featured a Dr Who exhibition.
Living in the West Court is also the Museum’s much loved star resident, Sir Roger, an Asian elephant who used to tour the country and resided at the Scottish Zoo in Glasgow before eventually becoming too dangerous and had to be shot. Above him, suspended from the ceiling, is a restored Spitfire LA198. The opposite wing of the Museum is adorned with a work of heads hanging from the ceiling, with varying expressions.
During World War the collections were spread around the UK in secret location, which in hindsight was a good idea as a German bomb exploded on the nearby Kelvin Way Bridge during the War, causing a great deal of damage to the Museum.
Rumor has it that once the building was completed, one of the architects of the building committed suicide by jumping from one of the building’s towers upon noticing that the building had been built backwards, with the back doors facing Dumbarton Road. This, however, is not true, as the museum was built to face the 1911 International Exhibition, not the street. It is because of this most people enter the Museum from the back, so to speak.
Admission to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum free for all, like most of the city’s museums, which is even more reason why it is a must visit for everyone who visits or lives in Glasgow.
Glasgow Trivia #9: By far the most famous of the items in the Museum is a painting by Salvador Dali, Christ of St John of the Cross. Dali created the painting in the summer of 1951 at in his home town of Port Lligat in Spain, the harbour of which is represented in the painting. It is a reworking of a drawing of the Crucifixion believed to have been made by Saint John of the Cross, a 16th century Spanish saint.
The painting was bought by the curator of the Kelvingrove after meeting with the artist in 1952. At the time the purchase created some controversy as many people felt that the price was too high, but apparently Dali had initially asked for £12,000 but the price was negotiated down by a third to £8,200, with Dali also ceding copyright of the painting to the city of Glasgow. Guess he needed the money. Ceding copyright was unusual as it gave away the reproduction rights to the purchaser (think giftshop products, books, postcards, etc…).
The painting went on display in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum on June 23rd, 1952, and today it is one of the best-loved works of art in the city. The painting is currently away from Glasgow as it is on loan to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, USA, where it will be on display from August 7th, 2010 until January 9th, 2011, as part of the exhibition Dali: The Late Work.
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