Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow

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While we were in Glasgow last week, we visited the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum over in the west side of the city, near the University of Glasgow. Opened in 1901, when it formed a major p​art of the Glasgow International Exhibition, it’s the main municipal museum and gallery in the city.

The building is very striking and very different those designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh during the same period that we’d been visiting during our day trips up to Glasgow. It’s design was the result of a competition that was launched in 1891 and which was won by John W Simpson and E J Milner Allen.

According to the Museum’s website

The architects described their design as ‘an astylar composition on severely ​Classic lines, but with free Renaissance treatment in detail’.

and that

the best description of the Kelvingrove building is Spanish Baroque.

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I’d certainly agree that it has a lot of over the top Baroque ornamentation and from a distance it does have a resemblance to the cathedral at Santiago de la Compostela (I’ve never been there, but have seen plenty of photographs of the cathedral).

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The entrance to the building led into a massive hall, that reminded me a little of the main hall inside St George’s Hall in Liverpool.  Everywhere you looked there were heavily decorated classical style features. There wasn’t a plain piece of stone any where in sight. I found it all too much to take in.

The gallery is well designed as a space to display artefacts and art works. There are two main wings off the central hall which, in turn, have smaller galleries off them. The rooms are light and airy. So it performs it’s intended function. However, for me it’s an ugly building with excessive ornamentation which can detract from the displays.

The exterior is decorated with an excess of superfluous towers, pinnacles, carvings and sculptures and lots of other “twiddly bits” (a good architectural term, that!). It’s all rather over the top.

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Its architecture is typical of municipal buildings of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods – big and brassy. It’s meant to make a statement about the city’s wealth and status. The industrial and commercial elite in the at this time tended to look backwards to older architectural forms for their inspiration. So the majority of the new buildings tended to be constructed in revivalist styles. More forward looking architects, such as Rennie Mackintosh found it difficult to find commissions. Ironically, it’s his work that is now used to promote Glasgow as a tourist destination.

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