Kelvingrove, Glasgow's favourite art gallery and museum, is on target to re-open in July, 2006 after a major refurbishent and it is going to be spectacular. One of Scotland's most popular tourist destinations it's bound to be even more popular than ever. Jim and I were thrilled to be given a pre-opening tour of the gallery by Alan Horn, whose enthusiasm for Kelvingrove has no bounds - and no wonder. The achievement of the design team, the builders, the curators and all responsible for the refurbishent has been remarkable and Glasgow can now boast a world class art gallery and museum catering for art afficienados, experts, vistors of all ages and wide-ranging interests. Whether it be paintings, archaeology, anthropology, armaments, history or design you will be enthralled.
The aim was always to combine the opportunity of showing a much greater number of exhibits with learning opportunities and it's interesting to see how this concept will work in practice. Not only will there be a vastly increased amount of artefacts for visitors to see but new facilities, such as the Art Discovery Centre, will provide 'hands on' opportunities for learning about art. Children are going to have great fun working on projects, painting and modelling. They will be able to learn about all aspects of art from decorative art to product design in an inspirational space which includes some significant pieces of art including 'Lady in a Red Hat' by Strang and also some of Lowry's work.
Each section of the Gallery has a particular focus; there is a gallery about 'Introduction to Art', which encourages consideration about "what inspires the artist" including people, places, things and events. A fine setting for Avril Paton's 'Windows in the West'. There is also an area where you can learn about 'Perspective".
The Gallery dedicated to Design shows different aspects of design from various periods in history with some design icons on view including the James Anderson handmade sportscar from the 1920s and you can learn about the Bennie Railplane invention. This area, like the rest of the gallery, has been inspired by extensive research. It aims to be integrated and inclusive reflecting the experience of visitors. Learning and play opportunities have again been combined and account has been taken of research which shows that young people love mirrors and love to dress up. I know that the youngsters in our family will be enthralled when they are offered this opportunity.
Parents can also join in the fun with the kids in the section which focuses on 'Every Picture Tells a Story', where games are played with images to work out what the artist is trying to communicate. Enjoyable and stimulating activites in a "noisy, vibrant, bright, exciting space" amidst wonderful surroundings with subjects incuding 'The Marriage of Convenience' by Sir William Q. Orchardson.
In the Gallery 'Scottish Identify of Art' there are some wonderful examples of Scottish Art including the fabulous portrait, Mrs Robert Scott Moncrieff, by Henry Raeburn. Many famous Scottish characters are included in this interesting part of Kelvingrove from Mary Queen of Scots and Robert the Bruce through to the first First Minister, Donald Dewar. It incorporates costume, history, and arms and also some wonderful Scottish Landscapes including the beautiful painting of Balmoral by Joseph Denovan Adam.
Throughout Kelvingrove there are many thought provoking, displays with incongruous items displayed side by side with great effect. For example, it seems a bit odd to find a hen, a hare and sea shells among the gallery's impressive arms and armaments collection. However, this intriguing approach illustrates the inspiration behind the design. This collection was bestowed to Kelvingrove by the passionate collector R.L.Scott of Scott Lithgows and it is the second most significant collection of arms and armaments in the world.
The gallery has many unique collections, impressive items, new exhibits and new purchases. The City of Glasgow Spitfire (1) is 'the ultimate flying machine' and bound to be popular with visitors as part of a display on the theme of flying. The newly acquired giraffe may prove as popular as Sir Roger, the much loved baby elephant. The skeleton of extinct Irish Elk can be seen in its entirety for the first time in the exhibit of Animal Superlatives. Here you can see the biggest, smallest, fastest and slowest animals. You can also see the Avant Armour from Milan, 1450, the most complete suit of armour in the world. People have also been 'suitably thrilled' on learning that Dali's 'Christ of Saint John on the Cross' is returning to it former location at Kelvingrove.
In the 'Mackintosh and Glasgow Style Gallery' a new addition to the collection is a desk from the Hill House in Helensburgh - the most expensive piece of 20th century furniture in the world. There are many other wonderful examples of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's work including the Chinese Room Settings from Miss Cranston's Tearoom, this display is visually delightful but also gives a sense of Glasgow's social and business history, where the City's tea rooms played an important role. (2) The thoughtful displays encourage an appreciation of the Glasgow Style an example of this can be seen in some beautiful china with a butterfly design complemented by a series of real butterflies as part of the display.
There is a multitude of examples of this attention to detail throughout the gallery, and the word that can be best used to describe it is quality. The display cases are of a beautiful streamlined design, the lighting is subtle and effective. Curators have had the task of producing 350,000 thousand words and 15,000 photographic images, ensuring that information is relevant and concise - 'providing information without overwhelming'. The beauty of the building has been embellished and perfect settings created to show world class works of art. In the Hugh Fraser Gallery some of the most fabulous paintings by Scottish Artists can be seen, my own favourite 'The Druid's Bringing in the Mistletoe', by Henry and Hornel is here as well as the Scottish Colourists including the very popular? 'Orange Blind' by Cadell. Also on display are some 'significant wee paintings lost in the gallery before' and a great attraction here is bound to be City of Glasgow's 'most significant new purchase, 'By the Findhorn' by Alexander Mann, 1886.
Another enchanting 'new' exhibit is the Orchestrian designed by Weldt and "it is astonishing that it should be in Glasgow". This unique item, one of only six in the world, has never before been on display although owned by Kelvingrove since the beginning of the last century. It should be a popular new exhibit at the Gallery, where it will be played every day.
I could go on forever regaling you with the charms of Kelvingrove and have not even mentioned wonderful collections such as the Dutch Masters, The Impressionists nor the quirky little corner housing La Farouk Madonna.
I have not updated you on the kitchens, the restaurants and the shops, although, I have mentioned these in earlier features about Kelvingrove's Kelvingrove's road to refurbishment Our visit was wonderful but - we didn't even see the half of it - it will take much more than a day to 'do Kelvingrove'. However, be reassured that this is a very successful refurbishment summed up by Antony McReavy, Manager of Kelvingrove, as "putting new wine into an old wine bottle'
It will appeal to people on a variety of levels - the ?30 million cost of the refurbishment has been well spent with the resulting quality remarkable. Glasgow City Council, Heritage Lottery Fund, European Regional Development Fund, Historic Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage, the main funders, will be more than happy with their investment as will the many, many indivuduals and businesses who donated to the Kelvingrove Refurbishment Appeal.
The collection of white heads, a display of expressive art hanging high in the Gallery, conjure up the many moods of Kelvingrove. They also seem to be looking down with some approval...Now we just can't wait for those doors to open in July.
Earier articles on Kelvingrove's road to refurbishment
Pat Byrne, May, 2006.
Photographs by Jim Byrne