Places to Visit in Scotland
- Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

The Building
The City of Glasgow's museum and art gallery at Kelvingrove (by the banks of the river Kelvin and facing the imposing University of Glasgow buildings on the other side) was officially opened in 1901. It had been built following a design competition and was launched with a major international exhibition in the surrounding parkland. The side facing the main road outside is actually the rear of the building, as it was designed to have its frontage facing the river.

The building is a typical product of the Victorian age (as are many of Glasgow's fine buildings) with ornate, red stonework on the outside and twenty display galleries and two side courts grouped round an impressive central court. If you are lucky, you can hear a recital from the massive organ there.

Modernisation and Expansion
The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow closed for a major refurbishment in 2003 lasting for three years and costing around 30 million. Before that, it regularly welcomed over a million visitors a year, making it the most popular free attraction in Scotland. Only Edinburgh Castle (which charges an entry fee) had more visitors, with 1.2 million that year.

When making an application for a National Heritage Lottery Grant, applicants often provide extravagant claims on what their projected footfall will be once building work has been completed. Glasgow City Council clearly got it wildly wrong - with a claim of a rise of 100%. But nobody (apart, maybe, from most Glaswegians) would have believed a nearly 300% estimate, but that was what was achieved in its first year after reopening - with 3,209,825 visitors to be precise That was more than Edinburgh Castle, the National Museum of Scotland and the National Galleries of Scotland combined. Only the National Gallery, Tate Modern and British Museum (all in London) attracted more visitors in the UK that year. While many of those calling in to see what all the fuss is about may have been tourists from all parts of the world, there is no doubt that numbers were swelled by the many repeat visits from Glaswegians themselves to "their" museum.

The major funding for the upgrading came from Glasgow City Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund, European Regional Development Fund and Historic Scotland and a number of other organisations. An appeal was also launched asking the general public to contribute a total of a further 5 million. As an incentive, every donor, no matter how large or small, has been recorded on donors' boards displayed in the main hall. Names are listed in alphabetical order and no details of amounts are given, so that everyone is treated the same. And the names of those who contributed will be there for future generations to see. It had always been said that the museum held a special place in the hearts of Glaswegians. The appeal confirmed this, with a staggering 12.75 million flowing in to the fund from 4,000 donors. Of course, there were some large donations from charitable trusts and foundations, including 5 million from Glasgow businessman Tom Hunter, for an education wing to be named after his father. One of the major contributors to the appeal fund was Donald Kahn, an American millionaire. Mr Kahn is a great admirer of the Glasgow architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh and he donated 500,000 towards the appeal. But there were also many thousands of contributions from people who had appreciated the role of the museum and gallery in the life of the city. The extra cash raised allowed the museum to carry out a "wish list" of future projects which they had expected would have to wait until cash became available later.



The building reopened on 11th July, 2006, with six additional public galleries, a 35% increase in public space and a 100% increase in the number of objects on display. It now not only has more floor space, but a new restaurant, as well as shops and state-of-the-art conference facilities. The slick presentation of exhibits and the buzz around the place (partly due of course to the large number of people milling around) make for an exciting experience - and not many museums and art galleries can achieve that. And there's a lot of fun too. The Battle of Britain Spitfire hanging from the roof of one of the halls seems to be sweeping down over the crowds below - while the multitude of heads floating in another hall grin, scowl and grimace with gay abandon. And if you get footsore going round all that, there is a new restaurant which looks out over the lofty spires of Glasgow University. Many of those who visit no doubt use that well-worn Glaswegian term of approval "Pure Deid Brilliant".


The Exhibits The exhibition halls concentrate on subjects such as Natural History/Zoology (with some fine displays of animals in natural settings), Archaeology (examples of Celtic and Roman finds from the west of Scotland), History (with a magnificent collection of arms and armour, presented by the chairman of Scott Shipbuilders on Clydeside) and Fine Arts (paintings by Rembrandt, Picasso, Monet, Van Gogh).

The upgrading of the art gallery also resulted in the return of the Dali painting "Christ of St John of the Cross." The painting was bought for the gallery in 1952 for 8,200 (the entire annual budget at that time) and has become one of the city's most famous paintings. In 1993, it was moved to the less well-known St Mungo Museum of Religious Life & Art near Glasgow Cathedral but it is now back at Kelvingrove (except when it tours to galleries abroad).


The museum displays Milanese field armour (purchased in 1938 from the American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst) and Greenwich field armour for man and horse from the 16th century (the only example of its kind to survive).

One of the galleries is devoted to the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, with examples of the furniture he designed for Miss Cranston's Tea Rooms in Glasgow. If you are a fan of Mackintosh you can also cross the river Kelvin to the Hunterian Museum, (the oldest public museum in Scotland) in Glasgow University, where there is a gallery with more than 80 pieces of his furniture.

This page only has space for a limited number of graphics but there is a Windows Media Slide Show of the building and many of its exhibits on YouTube.

Return to the Main Index of Places to Visit


Where else would you like to go in Scotland?








Separator line