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The Kelvingrove and the Hunterian: Big Hits at Glasgow's Top Museums

The Kelvingrove and the Hunterian: Big Hits at Glasgow's Top Museums

Donna Dailey - 2007-12-14

One year after it reopened following a major renovation, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum ranks among the top five most-visited museums in the UK. Its dazzling exhibition about pop queen Kylie Minogue sums up the spirit of the new Kelvingrove.

Bringing the UK's largest civic museum and art gallery into the 21st century was no simple matter. It took three years and £27.9 million, but when Glasgow's Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum finally re-opened its doors last year it shot to the top of the charts as Scotland's most visited attraction. What's more, it is now among the five most popular museums in the country (the others are in London).
 
A large-scale worksite
 
Built in 1901, the Kelvingrove has long been the people of Glasgow's favourite public building. Surrounded by parkland, its handsome red sandstone facade is often described as Spanish Baroque and its two main towers were in fact inspired by Spain's famous pilgrimage church, Santiago de Compostela.
 
But a century on, the Victorian display cases and exhibits, along with the building itself, were badly in need of an overhaul. Preparing for the restoration was an enormous task in itself. It took 50 staff members three years to pack up 200,000 items and move them to storage. They filled 2000 boxes and 3000 specimen trays, and used 7,000 metres of bubble wrap. Objects which were too large or fragile to be moved had to be safely encased and protected within the museum. And it has all been worth it. The gleaming new interior now has 50 percent more of its treasures on display.
 
The collections
 
The collections range from fine art to Scottish history, culture and natural history, archaeology and dinosaurs to artefacts from ancient Egypt and around the world.
 
One of the best-loved exhibits is Sir Roger the Asian Elephant, preserved by taxidermists after his death at the Glasgow Zoo in the early 1900s. At the other end of the spectrum, the art galleries contain Salvador Dali's haunting masterpiece Christ of St John of the Cross.
 
Though most of the fine art collection is displayed on the first floor, works by the Scottish Colourist and the Glasgow Boys* have pride of place on the ground floor. Among the new displays is the stunning Mackintosh Tearoom.
 
The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery
 
The Kelvingrove is not the only Glasgow museum marking a milestone this year: 2007 is the bicentenary of Scotland's oldest public museum, the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, located across the park from the Kelvingrove at Glasgow University. The museum was also renovated this year and reopened on 23 May, the birthday of its founder Dr William Hunter.
 
Ranging from Archaeology to Zoology, its collections contain some fascinating exhibits, such as the world's smallest dinosaur footprint and the amazing 'Map of the Whole World', produced for a Chinese emperor in 1674. Objects in the new Weird and Wonderful display in the entrance gallery have curious stories to tell.
 
The Hunterian Art Gallery is housed in a separate building opposite the museum. It contains an important collection of the Scottish Colourists, with hundreds of paintings and drawings, and more than 200 works by the Glasgow Boys. Also on display are portraits, oils and other highlights from the Whistler Collection, bequeathed to the museum by the artist James McNeill Whistler's estate.
 
One wing of the gallery contains the Mackintosh House, the home of Glasgow architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife, the artist Margaret Macdonald from 1906 to 1914.
 
It has been reconstructed using the original fitments and furniture, all designed by Mackintosh himself. Great care was taken to reconstruct the hall, dining room, studio-drawing room and main bedroom to the same position and measurements as the original terrace house, which stood nearby.
 
It's a fascinating look at the lifestyle and genius of Glasgow's most famous son, whose style is still greatly admired today.
 
* Influenced by the social realism of the French painting school of Barbizon, the Glasgow Boys wanted to show different aspects of Scottish life, drawing inspiration in particular from rural and country scenes in the surroundings of Glasgow.
 
PRACTICAL INFORMATION
 
 
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
Argyle Street
Glasgow
G3 8AG
Tél. : 0141 276 9599
 
Hunterian Museum
Main/Gilbert-Scott Building
University Avenue
University of Glasgow
Glasgow, G12 8QQ
Tél. : 0141 330 4221
www.hunterian.gla.ac.uk
 
Hunterian Art Gallery and the Mackintosh House
82 Hillhead Street
University of Glasgow
Glasgow, G12 8QQ
Tél : 0141 330 5431
 
Both museums are free, but there is a charge for the Mackintosh House, which is free on Wednesdays after 2pm.

One year after it reopened following a major renovation, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum ranks among the top five most-visited museums in the UK. Its dazzling exhibition about pop queen Kylie Minogue sums up the spirit of the new Kelvingrove.

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