Scotland’s two largest cities are as different as chalk and cheese. Edinburgh is the country’s cultural and political hub, and Glasgow is the industrial powerhouse with rough and ready areas of the city that are out of bounds for tourists – or at least that’s the image most people have, but things are not always as they seem. Edinburgh has rough areas too, and Glasgow has its own fair share of cultural institutions – and there are none better than the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.
This fabulous Victorian building was constructed, like many of Glasgow’s buildings, out of red sandstone from Locharbriggs Quarry near Dumfries. Edinburgh may have the National Museums, but I don’t think any of them are as handsome as the Kelvingrove.
Like all the city’s museums, Kelvingrove is free to go in, and on entering you will immediately arrive in the cavernous Centre Hall. It might be worth getting hold of the floor plan and studying it over a coffee before heading off like a headless chicken, because it won’t take long for you to realise that you’re either going to need a lot more time here than you first thought, or be more specific about what you want to see.
I decided on the latter, mainly concentrating on the exhibits relating to Glasgow, and in particular the Glasgow Boys and Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
The Glasgow Boys were a group of around 20 artists who were not only connected to the city in one way or another, but who also had a strong dislike for the Edinburgh based Scottish art establishment. At the end of the 19th century, they introduced a style of painting which differed from traditional Scottish art by creating a more realistic and natural approach, preferring to paint real people in real places, often outdoors. There’s a whole room dedicated to the Glasgow Boys here, and below are a couple of examples that are on display.
If the Glasgow Boys promoted the city’s style of art, then Charles Rennie Mackintosh and others did the same for promoting its unique style of Art Nouveau design.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh was the leading figure in what became known as the Glasgow Style, but in total there were some 75 designers involved. They were around at the same time as the Glasgow Boys, and worked with a variety of materials including glass, textiles and metal.
The designs they employed are not easy to describe, but they included distinctive shapes of lines, squares and curves based on nature, human figures and Celtic knots. Like most forms of art, it is more recognisable once you’ve seen it, and a good place to study it is in the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Room in the Kelvin Museum.
There are several examples of Mackintosh’s work around Glasgow, the most famous of which was the Glasgow School of Art in Renfrew Street. I say was, because a devastating fire in 2018 caused such extensive damage to the building that all that’s left is the shell.
One street down from Renfrew Street is Sauchiehall Street where another of Mackintosh’s creations can be seen at the Willow Tearooms.
Sauchiehall Street is well known for its pubs and bars, but none were open when I found myself walking along here one wet and windy January morning. With a bit of time to spare and an empty stomach I decided to check out the famous tea rooms and have a bacon and sausage breakfast roll into the bargain.
Between 1896 and 1917 Charles Rennie Mackintosh had a working relationship with a Miss Kate Cranston who had four teashops around the city, including the one here at 217 Sauchiehall Street which opened in October 1903. With help from his wife Margaret Macdonald, he redesigned all four interiors in his unique style, but the Willow Tearooms is the only building to survive relatively unscathed with some original leaded glass doors, windows and mirrors. In 1983 extensive restoration work brought it back to life in much the same way as it was originally intended, and basically what is here today is a re-incarnation of what the original tea shop would have been like.
This relatively short post about the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, the Glasgow Boys and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, is intended to show that Glasgow has more to offer in the world of arts and entertainment than just pubs, popular music and football.
Glasgow’s renaissance has added to these Victorian icons with smart new venues attracting a variety of cultural exhibitions and events. That said, it would be wrong of me to suggest that the city has completely shaken off its rough reputation entirely, and in the next post about Glasgow, I’ll be heading over to the East End to show you a different side of Glasgow life.
POSTED – OCTOBER 2021