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Kelvingrove museum and art gallery has been on my "to visit" list for a long time. Last weekend we finally made the trip through to Glasgow and saw the museum which is in the heart of Glasgow and home to more than 8000 exhibits. The museum is set in a gorgeous sandstone building next to Kelvingrove Park with a bronze sculpture of St Mungo, patron saint of the arts, flanked by two women representing art and music. The site has limited parking as well as good public transport links. The museum is set over three floors although the lower ground floor houses the temporary exhibitions; when we visited it was 500 years of Italian Art which cost £5 for an adult to enter but the rest of the museum is free.
The ground floor is a huge light and airy space and was a hive of activity. The main gallery here shows all kinds of animal life. Huge stuffed animals, including an elephant and giraffe, take pride of place in this exhibition. The standard of the taxidermy is high, I have seen some pathetic looking specimens in the past but these animals were really lifelike. A second smaller gallery had loads of Scottish wildlife that a Glasgow kid will not see in their everyday life like red squirrels, golden eagles and the capperceily along with interactive displays. Kids will love the clear beehive where bees come from the outside via a tunnel and make honey. Evolution is covered in a brilliant section devoted to Darwin's life and work with skeletons which shows the advancement from primate to human so you can see evolution in action.
Moving through to a smaller gallery is creatures from the past. This dinosaur themed exhibition is fascinating and has full sized skeletons and fossils including a cast of a dinosaur footprint found in the Western Isles of Scotland. There is a lot of reading material here too and I was surprised dinosaur remains had been found in Scotland.
The highlight of the Ancient Egypt gallery is the huge stone sarcophagus of Pa-ba-sa dating from around 600BC. There is also a mummy displayed in a coffin as well as many smaller artefacts. The explanations about hieroglyphics were the best I have read and I started to understand the fascination that people have for the Egyptians. The exhibition itself cannot compare in any way to the superior exhibits in the National Museum in Edinburgh but is still a good one.
The central hall of the ground floor is a huge open space with a café selling the typical overpriced coffees, cakes and sandwiches. The Kelvingrove organ is a massive pipe organ on the second floor but it is here you can gather and listen to the daily concert. The organist played a series of popular classics on the day we visited, the music was not the best for the organ and some Bach would have been better but it was still enjoyable to sit and listen to it.
Thankfully the upper floor was a lot quieter than the ground floor with far fewer kids running around. This floor concentrates more on artwork although there is also a section on warfare which I only briefly looked at as it is not something I have an interest in. The artworks were varied from historical to modern and there was lots of sculpture as well as paintings.
Dali's Christ of St John on the Cross is the jewel in the art collection, bought in 1952 it has always drawn crowds eager to see it. The painting shows Christ on the cross from above and is in its own separate gallery with benches where you can sit and contemplate. It is an outstanding work of art that evokes a sense of wonder in the viewer and it is worth a trip to Kelvingrove to see this painting alone.
As we visited on a nice sunny day we enjoyed taking a picnic and sitting eating outside in Kelvingrove park and also bought additional refreshments from the small outdoor café. They were overpriced at £2 for a small cup of machine coffee but you have to expect that where they have a captive market.
I think I am spoiled in terms of museums after many visits to the Royal and National museum in Edinburgh. Kelvingrove is not nearly on the same scale in terms of size nor does it have the breadth of exhibits on offer but it is still a nice place to spend an afternoon but unlike the Edinburgh museums it is not somewhere you can return dozens of times and still not see everything. It was a little bit too child friendly for my liking with the ground floor in particular being full of exuberant children running around as I prefer quiet and calm. The teenagers enjoyed the visit just as much as the adults meaning that it is a good place to visit for young and old.
Kelvingrove was refurbished and reopened in 2007. There are numerous new exhibits and the addition of several activity centres.
When you walk into Kelvingrove you immediately notice the large organ upstairs. This is used for recitals. People generally sit in the cafe area to watch and listen.
Turning left leads into the "Life" section of the museum, where you will be greeted by Sir Rodger, the Asian elephant. This section is popular with families as children love to see the animals. There is a giraffe, gazelle, giant spider crab, an exhibition of flying insects and various other natural world exhibitions. This area gives visitors an insight into the size of some of the animals on our planet. It is always surprising to note just how tall the giraffe is!
Following on from here visitors can enter the section on Scottish wildlife. Here you come across Scottish birds and wildlife in Glasgow, as well as more traditional deer and highland cows. Again, this may be the only time some children have ever seen a highland cow up close. A great section for those who love animals. There are also some interactive exhibits for children.
Following on from here we enter Creatures from the Past. This is a wonderful exhibit containing a dinosaur skeleton and various fossils as well as models of extinct animals from prehistoric times. Again this area is popular with families - all children love dinosaurs don't they?
Here we also find an area dedicated to Scotland's lost wildlife. It contains information on animals which are now extinct in Scotland, with some fur and other things for visitors to touch. It's actually quite a quiet little area; generally people feel a little sadness at the loss of such beautiful creatures.
The Ancient Egypt exhibit is, once again, very popular with families. This would also be an excellent area to use for topic work on Ancient Egypt around level C. The museum's collection of Egyptian artefacts is wide and impressive. There is a sarcophagus, various statues and totems and jars and pots. It gives children a very real experience of all of the objects they have been discussing in class.
Glasgow stories is the next section. Here we see information about Glasgow's links to various countries in the world. There is a small section on James Watt here too and, perhaps the most poignant exhibit here is "Symbols that Divide". Glasgow and the West of Scotland have a long history of Sectarianism. This area contains both Catholic iconography - a cross, a priest; and Protestant objects - an Orange banner. There is a wonderful photo of two little boys, one wearing a Celtic top, the other a Rangers top, waving together at the camera. This area could be used as a class visit too.
Crossing to the other side of the museum we enter the Expression area. You immediately notice the large display of expression heads hanging from the ceiling. Visitors are challenged to count the expressions on the faces. There is a great area dedicated to masks which, once again, can be used with a school topic.
The area dedicated to "Looking at Art" is fascinating! There are displays of restored paintings which have been x-rayed to reveal an alternate image underneath. This is a wonderful little area of the museum and will keep adults occupied for ages!
Kelvingrove being a Glasgow museum, there is obviously an area dedicated to Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Here we see examples of his work and information about his life as well as discussion of The Glasgow Style and information about Mackintosh's work with Miss Cranston in creating her tea room's distinctive style. A fascinating exhibit if you are interested in Mackintosh's work.
The Scottish art section which follows on from Mackintosh contains numerous works by the Glasgow boys - a group of Scottish artists who were seen to be revolutionary in the late 1800's.
Upstairs the museum has an impressive display of armoury including traditional warrior armour and animal armoury. There is a great exhibit about a Navy officer who served during WWII, and a section about the Holocaust. Once again, these would make an interesting visit for schools studying the War.
Right outside the section on armoury hangs the painting "Christ of St. John of the Cross" by Dali. A few years ago some vandal attacked the painting and ripped part of it. It has been beautifully restored and is now behind glass. However, it is an entirely hypnotic piece of art and certainly seems to evoke an air of reverence from those viewing it. I would recommend a visit to the museum to see this piece alone.
Continuing along the corridor, the area called Cultural survival contains many cultural artefacts from Scotland and around the world as well as information about their histories. I particularly liked the section about the islands of St Kilda. These islands used to be inhabited, but now they are a national nature reserve and wildlife colony.
Across towards the other side of the museum there are galleries of French, Italian, Dutch art. The museum holds an impressive collection of art both religious and secular. It is an interesting and calming experience to walk through the galleries viewing the various artworks. This area has a completely different atmosphere to the more hands on areas downstairs.
The section on Scottish Identity in Art is interesting and contains both divine and ridiculous paintings. It is interesting to view and to see what foreign tourists make of it all. This section could also be used with a class discussing Scotland and Scottish identity.
The last section of the museum to explore is the area representing Scotland's first people. It is fascinating to find out about Bronze Age Scotland and the Viking links to Scotland.
Kelvingrove is a wonderful museum which provides much information about a huge variety of topics, but still keeps strong links with Scotland. People from Glasgow and Scotland love coming here as much as the tourists do. The building is beautiful and looks right on the river Kelvin behind. There are also great views on the University beyond and good access to the main building via a walkway.
Kelvingrove is a great day out for all ages and could be the start of an interesting day of sightseeing in Glasgow.
The Kelvingrove Art Gallery is a free to visit gallery, making this a very inexpensive day out for the family, which welcome in this current climate.
The gallery is on 2 levels, with the bottm level being more family orientated, with lots of exhibits about animals, the war, dinosaurs etc. There is also many special exhibitions hosted here, for example at the moment they have a Doctor Whoo exhibit, which you do need to pay for, this is sometimes quite pricey though. The second floor level is sometimes by passed by quite alot of people as this is home to all the paintings, this is such a shame as the paintings are lovely, and there ar some interesting insect ehibits upthere too. There is a large bee hive where you can see the bees flying in and out and the honeycomb that they produce, which is really fascinating to watch.
Overall this is a really good day out and its free!!
They used to say Glasgow's Miles Better as a means of promoting Glasgow and attracting tourism and industry to the City. And I think it would be fair to say the slogan worked. But even before that particular campaign Glasgow had a gem that attracted not only visitors from outside, but much of the populace of Glasgow.
For many Glaswegian families a Sunday afternoon, a few times a year, spent at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, was perhaps as important as, for some, their regular Sunday morning outing to church. And just as churches have their Cathedrals, the Kelvingrove Museum must surely be Glasgow's Cathedral of Knowledge for the Children of Glasgow and Beyond?
That gem has now been through a massive refurbishment programme which has brought more exhibits and floor space and it now rivals Edinburgh Castle as one of Britain's top tourist attractions.
Amongst its exhibits is one of the finest collections of arms and armour in the world, a vast natural history collection and an art collection which includes many outstanding European artworks, including works by the Old Masters, French Impressionists, Dutch Renaissance, Scottish Colourists and The Glasgow School. And yes one of Glasgow's most famous sons, Charles Rennie Mackintosh has his work featured.
The very open feeling of the space inside the museum lends itself to a Spitfire which is hung at the height of the balcony, and simple as this may seem, is actually rather impressive to look at.
Once upon a time you could 'cover' this museum in an afternoon, but with the recent refurbishment there is now 50% more space and exhibits, you would be well advised to plan a whole day here.
As much as the eating facilities are excellent and reasonably priced, you are advised to bring a small picnic and spend your lunchtime in the grounds of one of Europe's finest public parks, the beautiful Kelvingrove Park, which the museum is immediately adjacent too.
Oh and did I mention, even though it is one of the Grandest Museums in Britain, entry is free!
WHERE IS IT?
Kelvingrove Art Gallery is situated within Kevlingrove Park in the West End of Glasgow. The museum is open 7 days a week and is free of charge.
The whole building was completed refurbished over 5 years since 2001, the whole process taking nearly 3 years just to remove most of the exhibits from the gallery to a purpose built storage facility in the east end of the city. Some exhibits however were too large to move, just as a stuffed elephant, and such exhibits were boxed up whilst refurbishment works carried on around them.
When Kelvingrove reopened in July 2006, it quickly re-established itself in the hearts of Glaswegians and visitors alike. Prior to closing the gallery had just over 1 million visitors a year, on its opening day, over 15,000 people visited. By the time of the official opening in September 2006 by Her Majesty the Queen, nearly 1 million visitors has visited.
Attractions range from a Spitfire LA198 suspended from the roof as if it was flying through the galleries, allowing it to be viewed from below and above, to the Salvador Dali masterpiece Christ of St John of the Cross.
Other exhibits range from stuffed animals, statues, french, italian and dutch paintings, a Charles Rennie Macintosh exhibit, dinosaur fossils, basically you name it, Kelvingrove has it.
The refurbishments works allowed 50% extra space to be available for exhibits, mainly by opening up a new basement and the removal of offices. However the building is still not large enough to house all the exhibits at once, so 10% of the exhibits are changed each year.
Kelvingrove truly is a wonderful place to visit, for people of all ages. The only downside is that parking is very limited, but public transport is very good, with a number of buses stopping right outside, and an underground station being around 10 minutes walk.
It's well worth a visit.
+++History of the gallery+++
Kelvingrove first opened its doors to the public on 2 May 1901having previously been home to the City Industrial Museum since 1870. Kelvingrove was a major part of the International Exhibition of 1888 and it was from this that much of the money needed for the building came. Funds were also secured from the Association of the Encouragement of Arts and Music and The Town Council bringing the total funds to a measly £250k.
Although the museum opened in 1901, the collections go back to the mid 1800's, the year Archibald McLellan, the owner of the Kelvingrove mansion died. McLellan, born in 1790 worked as a coachbuilder and was well known to be an avid art collector. At the time off his death, McLellan had amassed over 400 paintings leaving them to the people of Glasgow.
+++The restoration of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum+++
Glasgow City Council began to prepare for a complete restoration of the building and radical redisplay of objects under the title of Kelvingrove New Century Project in 2001.
The restoration cost £27.9m with almost half being funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. A further £12m was allocated from Glasgow City Council and the European Regional Development Fund. And an appeal trust was set up to raise a further £5m.
Display space was increased by the removal of offices and workshops and by opening up the basement to allow for an increase of 50% off the number of objects on display.
Upon entering through the main hallway, the visitor is met with an extraordinary sight. The building alone is breath-taking with its beautifully gilded ceilings and magnificent stone work. A fully restored Spitfire hangs from the ceiling at the far end of the hall. A guide met us at the door and told us to turn to look behind where we stood. There above us was the second largest organ in Scotland and we were blessed to have arrived in time to see this tiny man take his place in front of the giant beast of an instrument to play. (I am sure making music from such a massive, intricate and beautiful machine is tantamount to middle-aged men and their sports cars...).
The ground floor is by far the most Family friendly with a Mini Museum for under 5's which gives the kids a chance to enjoy the exhibits hands on whether trying on different masks or measuring your feet against that which fits in the giant shoe on display.
There is a "Natural history" feel to much of this floor with exhibits of animals and ethnic costumes on display. There are clearly marked sign boards describing what the visitor is looking at and plenty of activities for kids to take part in - such as draw and display boards and mini quizzes.
The Environment Discover Centre also offers displays that kids can get involved with to give them a better understanding of what they are looking at. Other galleries on the ground floor include Creatures of the Past, Ancient Egypt, Glasgow Stories, Scotland's Wildlife, Scottish Art, Expression, Looking at Art, Mackintosh and the Glasgow Style, and Looking at Design
This floor homes new facilities such as the multimedia Object Cinema, the History Discovery Centre, and the Study Centre. There is a strong focus on Scottish art work with exhibitions such as Scottish Identity in Art, Glasgow and the World, Scotland's First People, Sculpture Highlights and Picture Promenade.
There is also a fantastic display of Italian renaissance art including the Madonna and Child with the infant St John and two Angels, from the workshop of Pesellino. The French 19th century display includes the beautiful contributions of Monet and Vuillard and works by Rembrant can be found within the Dutch painting section.
The "Conflict and Consequence" display shows conflicts from the Battle of Langside through to the more recent Holocaust. This is a truly fascinating exhibit with armoury and weaponry on display dispersed between the battle scenes staged using armoured mannequins.
The basement floor features the Campbell Hunter Foundation Education Wing, the Royal Bank of Scotland Group Exhibition Gallery, the Conference Room, and the café/restaurant and shop.
The most interesting part of this floor was "ONCE" a unique collaboration between Glaswegian composer Craig Armstrong and Scottish visual artists Dalziel and Scullion who combine sounds and imagery of Glasgow to create an exhibition which will appeal to Glaswegians and visitors alike.
.+++What makes it worth it+++
What I noticed most as I walked through the heaving museum with my family were the other visitors. There were people of all ages, racial backgrounds and social standing.
Very rarely do you walk into a museum or gallery and find such a diverse public enjoying and appreciating the history of not only such a beautiful building but also its contents. This is a testament to the successful restoration and updating of the museum.
The people responsible for creating the exhibitions were tasked with a difficult job and have managed to create a space and an environment which is ground-braking in its child friendly nature. So often, children aren't exposed to such creativity until they are old enough to find it "boring". Kelvingrove strives to capture their interest early on designing a floor plan which allows for energetic little 3 year olds, sticky fingers and curious minds. I took my 3 year old and my 10 year old and both were more than happy to roam through the museum for more than three hours (believe me, this is a miracle)
For once, we somehow managed to escape a museum without having to empty our wallets in the shop. The reason for this I think is that they are discretely placed throughout the venue instead of smacking you over the head as you try to leave the building. There are three shops (The Kelvin, The Mungo and the Argyle) although I must confess to having only seen two. Having peaked in briefly in to the shop in the basement, I was impressed with the quality of merchandise. Gone were the plastic kaleidoscopes and bouncy balls you often find and instead there were sensitively stacked shelves with fine jewellery, glassware, art prints and books. Having done my research, I was impressed to learn that the museum stocks many fair trade products in its shops including hand carvings and head-dresses made by women of Kenya. I was equally impressed to learn it supports the local community by promoting and selling Scottish and Glasgow-based products from designers such as Alicia MacInnes and Shirley Pinder and of course there is a variety of Mackintosh products available.
There is a small coffee cart located in the main hall with limited coffee bar style tables. Here you can get pre=packed sandwiches, drinks, crisps pastries and sweets.
We decided to go to the Café in the basement which is beautifully and tastefully set up in a light atmosphere with seating also available in the conservatory.
It was a "wait to be seated" restaurant and I must admit, it was packed on the day we visited. Having said that, I was extremely impressed by the quick turn-around and high level of service. We waited for roughly 10 minutes for a table and within less than 5 minutes our drinks order had arrived and our meals order taken. This is a bit more upmarket than many museum cafes but was a refreshing change. My 3 year old munched down on a grilled mini chicken breast with homemade (the most amazing chips I have had in a very long time) chips and peas while my partner enjoyed a freshly prepared sandwich on granary with a parsnip and rosemary soup which was fantastic. I was pleased to see my roast beef sandwich arrived without the smell of plastic packaging and instead hinted at being freshly carved only moments before.
All together (2 kids meal, 2 adult meals, an extra chips and 4 drinks) we paid £20.50. This may be a bit more than you would expect to pay for lunch on a day out like this, but it was well worth every penny as the service was great, the food was great and the atmosphere was a treat.
There are toilets scattered throughout the museum however, I didn't feel that they were sign-posted as well as they could have been. Although there is wheelchair access, I found the facilities small with only 3 cubicles resulting in a lengthy wait. This isn't ideal when you have a 3 year old only potty-trained for a few months previously to contend with.
There were baby changing facilities available in each bathroom (including the men's toilet I understand) and one out of three of the (very stylish) sinks were lowered to allow kids better access.
Parking for the gallery is outdoors and limited. There are plenty of parking meters nearby if you don't mind a bit of a walk however, it is still touch and go as to whether you will have any luck on a busy day. Having said that, if you aren't in a hurry and it is a (rare) dry day, you have the benefit of a beautiful walk through the heart of Kelivngrove Park.
Having recently been renovated, the museum is accessible to everyone once inside. With lift access, ramping throughout and generous spacing between most exhibits it is wheelchair/pushchair friendly for the most part.
Where it is a bit difficult is upon entering or leaving the building. Although I can appreciate the need to restore the original feel of the magnificent building I saw many parents struggling with pushchairs on the vast staircase that leads to the front doors. The only other area I saw space as being an issue was within the mini gallery for kids. The displays are sensitively positioned at a more child friendly level and the space is quite limited meaning parents with pushchairs are forced to wait on the outskirts (no more than 6 feet away from their kids at anytime and in plain view) meaning they can't participate as freely with their children.
This was a fabulous success for the whole family and it felt wonderful to be exposing the kids to something a bit more cultured than Bilco's indoor adventure park or M&D's amusement park. There was so much to take in and with a child or several children it isn't likely you will manage to see everything. I must admit to having been limited to the more "child friendly" exhibitions while my partner had an opportunity to saunter through the other displays on his own.
This is an understandably busy museum which can make keeping an eye on young children more difficult however, many of the visitor's were themselves parents with their kids with them which means amore tolerant and understanding environment.
The displays and the accessibility for kids was phenomenal and the architecture in the building is beyond description. One thing I have always appreciated about Glasgow is the amount of free or minimal cost museums can be found. This identifies a true belief in national heritage which I hadn't previously seen. To have this accessible to everyone is great and can only encourage our kids to learn, experience and grow.
I would strongly recommend this gallery for anyone interested in absorbing some historic culture and art, particularly those with a family.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is located in picturesque Kelvin Park in the popular West End of the city.