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Museum Review–Kelvingrove, Glasgow

December 31, 2015

It should not be a surprise to anyone who reads this blog regularly that HARN Towers moved to Glasgow in September for the EAA.  We had a few days to wander, and wander we did!  Ulf and I (Kate) went to a few museums, and this post is the last review of the last Glasgow museum we visited.

The Kelvingrove Museum is on Argyle Street in Glasgow, near the River Kelvin, Kelvingrove Park, and the main campus of the University of Glasgow.  All of these names are associated with William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, whose work as a physicist and engineer for more than 50 years at Glasgow has forever associated his name with the University.

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Statue of Kelvin in Kelvingrove Park, photo by Kate

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Kelvingrove Main Entrance, Wikimedia commons

The grand entrance of the Locharbriggs red sandstone building, which was built in 1901 and renovated from 2003-06, faces the park and is an imposing structure you can see for miles around.  It is beautiful during the day, as well as when it is lit up at night.

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Towers of the Kelvingrove Museum with the River Kelvin flowing in the foreground. Photo by Kate

According to the museum website, the museum has 22 galleries with over 8000 objects on display.  These include a hanging heads exhibit, a Spitfire plane, Sir Roger the Elephant, Fulton’s Orrery, and a haggis (animal) that is displayed next to a haggis (food).  The galleries are extremely diverse and, to be quite honest, strangely laid out.  To someone who has been to a lot of museums, it seems that the galleries could use some better organization.  But, this organization is what the Kelvingrove is famous for.

There is a large collection of important art in the upstairs part of the museum, such as a VanGogh, a Dalí, and a few rooms with Scottish architect Mackintosh’s work displayed.  You can view many of the collections highlights here, so I won’t redo their work.

As you walk in—go in from the main, parkside entrance if you can—you can see the hanging heads.  The floors are, I believe, original, and are beautiful.  You enter the indoor courtyard after you walk in under the pipes of the pipe organ.  The organ is played at 1 pm Mondays-Saturdays and at 3 pm on Sundays.  We missed it when we were there, but I understand that it is something not to be missed.

There is a lot to say about the Kelvingrove Museum.  Ulf and I were a little overwhelmed with the amount of the collections on display, the diversity of it, and with the way in which it was organized.  It is definitely a museum that needs more than one visit, maybe more than 5 visits.  Fortunately, entry is free.  Unfortunately, we only had about 2 hours to look around and couldn’t go back.  If you get a chance to go, I’m going to talk about some of the highlights.

Sir Roger the Elephant was a great exhibit.  After retiring from traveling fairs in Scotland, he was held at the Scottish Zoo in Glasgow and his keeper would frequently take him on walks in the countryside.  He developed a condition called musth, which is where an elephant goes into heat and can be extremely dangerous.  He was shot in 1900 so to keep other animals and zookeepers safe.  In 1901 he was put on display in the Kelvingrove and has been there ever since.  When they renovated the museum, they simply built a box for him where he stands and renovated around him.  All of this information came from the museum placard for Sir Roger.

Dalí and VanGogh at the Kelvingrove were a surprise!  The 1951 painting Christ of St. John the Cross by Salvador Dalí was purchased for the museum in 1952.  It is a favorite in the collection.

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Christ St. John of the Cross, Salvador Dalí, 1951. Photo by dalipaintings.net

The Van Gogh painting is from 1887 and is of Alexander Reid, an art dealer that was a good friend of Van Gogh’s.  The story goes that, at one point, both men were depressed about money and women, and Van Gogh suggested a suicide pact.  Reid refused and the their relationship deteriorated after that.  The painting had long been thought to be a self-portrait, but is in fact of Reid.

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Alexander Reid, Vincent Van Gogh, 1887. Photo by vggallery.com/painting/p_0343.htm

The Glasgow Boys and Glasgow Girls were groups of artists who worked in and around Glasgow from about 1880-1900.  Their work is highlighted in the museum.  I had never heard of either group, nor of any of the artists in the groups.  This is not saying much, as I know relatively nothing about art except that sometimes I think it is quite pretty, like this one.

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The Swans, by Edward Atkinson Hornel. Photo by Kate.

Again, the collections are diverse–which is a plus for any museum.  But be careful about where you spend your time, depending on what you’d like to see and how long you have.  If you’re in Glasgow and want to tour museum collections, you cannot go wrong here.  There is something for everyone.  Even for people who like haggis.

Finally, a word about the shop (of course).  It was on the Lower Ground level and was a normal museum shop.  One major point is that it had a lot of postcards of the collections, especially the art and Mackintosh displays.  Those types of collections can be hard to get good pictures of in the actual displays, so you can buy them here.  The shop had many of the same items as the Hunterian (see post), especially when considering the touristy Glasgow items, but it was still a shop you should visit.

–Kate

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