The City of Glasgow owns one of the finest museum collections in Europe, consisting of approximately one million objects cared for by Culture and Sport Glasgow. These encompass a broad spectrum of art and design, human history, natural history, and transport and technology. The art collection is recognised as one of the best in the UK, and covers a wide range of media including paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, metalwork, ceramics, glass, jewellery, furniture and textiles. It provides a comprehensive overview of the history of European art and design, with masterpieces by major artists such as Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Whistler and Dalí. Works from non-European cultures include an internationally renowned collection of Chinese art.
The development of the art collection began with the 1854 bequest of 510 paintings by Glasgow coachbuilder Archibald McLellan (1795–1854). He was a prolific collector of Italian, Dutch and Flemish art, and his gift included gems such as The Annunciation by Botticelli and studio, and Titian’s Christ and the Adulteress. Unfortunately, McLellan was insolvent at the time of his death, and there were numerous claims on his property by his creditors. Before the City could acquire the collection, it had to pay off his debts and it was only after more than a year of debate and a narrow vote in Council that the collection was acquired. One of those who argued strongly for the acquisition was the philanthropist and collector William Euing (1788–1874), who donated 30 paintings from his own collection shortly after McLellan’s collection was purchased. He later bequeathed the remainder of his collection of some 200 works to the City. Among the paintings he bequeathed is Saenredam’s Interior of St Bavo’s, Haarlem, with a Catholic Baptism.
Another major acquisition came in 1877, when Jane Graham-Gilbert, widow of the portrait painter John Graham-Gilbert (1794–1866), died and bequeathed her husband’s collection and all his unfinished works. Among the 70 works are copies of Italian paintings made during his training, as well as Italian and Dutch Old Masters such as Rembrandt’s A Man in Armour, one of the greatest works in the Collection.
While the Collection itself was growing and improving, the gallery in which it was displayed was becoming something of an embarrassment to the city. Archibald McLellan’s partially-completed gallery was acquired along with his collection and was used as the Corporation’s art gallery. In order to recoup the cost it was hired out for balls and soirées, and the physical damage incurred during these gatherings was compounded by poor ventilation, dirty gas lighting and a lack of maintenance. By the late nineteenth century, Glasgow had become one of the principal manufacturing and commercial centres in the country and was styling itself as the Second City of the Empire. In order to reflect this status, the City decided to create a new combined museum and art gallery, which, in the words of the Convener of the Museums and Galleries Committee, would be ‘adequate for the necessities and dignity of the great commercial and industrial city of Glasgow’. In 1888, the city’s first International Exhibition was held expressly to raise funds for the new museum. This was followed in 1901 with a second International Exhibition, to celebrate the newly constructed Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and to raise funds for future acquisitions.
Glasgow’s massive expansion in the late nineteenth century saw the rise of an industrial elite who developed a taste for collecting art. Many were extremely discerning and knowledgeable, and their gifts now form the backbone of the collection. Their motivations for giving were a mixture of civic pride, philanthropy and status aggrandizement, but most adhered to McLellan’s belief that ‘the study of what are called the “fine arts” is eminently conducive to the elevation and refinement of all classes, as well as intimately connected with the manufacturing and mercantile prosperity of this community.’ Among the industrialist collectors who donated paintings were the shipbuilder Isabella Elder, the chemical manufacturer William J. Chrystal and the engineer Sir John Richmond.
Dr T. J. Honeyman, Director of the Museums Service from 1939 to 1954, was highly influential in encouraging industrialist collectors to donate to the City. He courted William McInnes, a shipping company owner with a particular fondness for French art, for many years. McInnes bequeathed over 70 paintings in 1944 including Monet’s Vétheuil, Van Gogh’s The Blute-Fin Windmill, Montmartre and Picasso’s The Flower Seller.
However, the greatest gift came from shipping magnate Sir William Burrell and his wife. Their collection of nearly 9,000 objects included a vast array of works from every period from all over the world, including important medieval tapestries, stained glass, English oak furniture, European paintings and sculpture, and important collections of Chinese and Islamic art. Significant paintings in his collection include Rembrandt’s Self Portrait, Degas’ The Rehearsal, and Cézanne’s The Château of Médan. One of the remarkable strengths of the Burrells’ collection is that Sir William deliberately purchased groups of works by specific artists including Géricault, Millet, Daumier, Courbet, Manet and Degas. However, some of the most important works by Millet, Manet and Degas are pastels and they are out of the remit of this catalogue.
As well as receiving gifts from private collectors, the Museums Service has been very active in purchasing art. The most high-profile acquisition was undoubtedly Dalí’s Christ of St John of the Cross. This was an inspired purchase by Dr Honeyman, a friend of Dalí’s, who managed to secure the work despite major opposition in the Council and from students of the Glasgow School of Art. However, it received major public acclaim and has remained one of the most iconic and loved paintings in Glasgow’s Collection. The painting was purchased from the remainder of the 1901 Exhibition purchase fund, but other major acquisitions have been made possible using funds from the Hamilton Bequest, which derives from the combined estates of the storekeeper John Hamilton and his two sisters, Elizabeth and Christina. They gave a sum of money in 1927 solely for the purchase of oil paintings for Kelvingrove. The fund is still administered by the Hamilton Trustees, and has presented some 80 paintings including Rossetti’s Regina cordium, Gauguin’s Østre Anlæg Park, Copenhagen and Monet’s View of Ventimiglia.
Thus, with a combination of generous gifts and judicious purchasing, Glasgow Museums has established an internationally significant art collection with major strengths in European and Scottish art.
The collection of Italian paintings is among the finest, both intellectually and aesthetically, held by any municipal museum service in the UK. It includes works ranging from the fourteenth to the late ninteenth century, originating from the main artistic centres of Italy such as Venice, Bologna, Rome, Florence and Naples. A number of important fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Venetian School works by major artists such as Giovanni Bellini, Titian and Paris Bordon form the backbone of the collection. It also includes paintings closely associated with the workshops of Botticelliand Pesellino, and boasts seventeenth- and eighteenth-century works of particularly high quality and importance by Carlo Dolci, Domenichino, Francesco Guardi and Salvator Rosa.
The Spanish collection is the second largest in the UK. The majority of the paintings date from the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and include works by El Greco, Cano, Murillo, Velázquez (school of), and Ribera (studio of). Later works include paintings by Goya, Juan Gris and Dalí. The collection of Spanish paintings is of particular historical interest, having been formed largely by the pioneering local collector William Stirling-Maxwell (1818–1878). The substantial group of Habsburg portraits, which reflects Stirling-Maxwell’s preoccupation with the history of Spain, is the finest outside Madrid and Vienna.
The Dutch and Flemish collection is of unusual depth and breadth, and is among the largest in the world outside the great national or princely collections. It includes paintings, watercolours and gouaches made between c.1450 and c.1960. Dutch art forms the largest part of this collection. Old Masters include Rembrandt, Lairesse and works attributed to, or after, Rubens. Later works include a significant collection of nineteenth-century Dutch School paintings. The majority of the works from the southern Netherlands date from the seventeenth century, as well as the fine sixteenth-century work Virgin and Child by a Fountain by Bernaert van Orley and studio.
The collection of French nineteenth-century oils is one of the largest, finest and most important in the UK. It covers some of the key artistic movements of this time, with stunning individual masterpieces and works by many of the most important French artists working in the period from 1800 to 1950. The collection ranges from early nineteenth-century works by Théodore Géricault to paintings by Braque and Matisse from the early twentieth century. It covers a wide range of styles, including the Barbizon School, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and Fauvism.
The British collection is more patchy, but includes some outstanding individual masterpieces by key artists. Most of the works are of high artistic quality, and the collection as a whole provides a substantial contribution towards an overview of British art. Among the more significant works are Turner’s Modern Italy: The Pifferari and Whistler’s internationally important Arrangement in Grey and Black, No.2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle, the first painting by the artist to enter a public collection.
The Scottish collection, in contrast, is one of the most comprehensive in the country, being especially rich in nineteenth- and twentieth-century painting. It includes works by many of the key figures in Scottish art, including Henry Raeburn, Horatio McCulloch, William McTaggart and Joan Eardley. It includes eighteenth- and nineteenth-century portraits, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century landscapes, and Scottish Victorian narrative and history paintings.
The collection of works by the Glasgow Boys is of great significance, and the overall aesthetic quality of the works is extremely high. The most significant areas of the collection include an excellent group of ‘rustic realist’ pictures painted in the early 1880s by James Guthrie, James Paterson and William Kennedy, including Guthrie’s Old Willie: The Village Worthy and A Funeral Service in the Highlands. The group of ‘symbolist’ pictures from the 1890s includes The Druids: Bringing in the Mistletoe, a joint collaboration by Henry and Hornel. The breadth of the collection is such that many lesser known Glasgow Boy artists are also represented by significant works in their careers.
The collection of Scottish Colourists also has excellent breadth and depth, and includes a fine group of early landscapes painted in Scotland and France by Fergusson and Peploe, a series of mature landscapes mainly of Scottish views by Peploe, Cadell and Hunter, a group of Cadell ‘ladies in interiors’, an excellent group of Peploe still lifes, and some strong figurative compositions painted in Paris by Fergusson.
More recent Scottish artists such as John Bellany and John Byrne are also well represented in the collection. Their work paved the way for a renewed interest in figurative and narrative painting exemplified by the New Glasgow Boys – Peter Howson, Ken Currie, Adrian Wiszniewski and Steven Campbell. The collection contains some rare and unique examples of their work, including Currie’s monumental and eerieThe Bathers and Howson’s popular The Glorious Game. Glasgow has established its reputation as an international centre for contemporary visual arts, and the collection contains a number of important works by Glasgow-based artists who have become internationally significant, including a number of Turner Prize winners, although few of these contemporary artists are currently working in oil.
As with most municipal collections, some works are important for their high artistic merit, while others are important because their subject matter provides an important historical record of local people and places.
The principal museums in which the collection is displayed are Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, which has comprehensive displays of the major Scottish and European paintings, the Burrell Collection, where Sir William Burrell’s collection can be seen, and the Gallery of Modern Art, which displays elements of the permanent collection alongside temporary exhibitions. Paintings of a local character can be seen at the People’s Palace and Winter Gardens, which has an important early commission from Ken Currie. Glasgow’s Spanish paintings can still be seen in Pollok House, the former home of William Stirling-Maxwell, now run on the City’s behalf by the National Trust for Scotland. Paintings not on display can be accessed at Glasgow Museums Resource Centre, which now includes one of the largest painting stores in Europe.
This is the first time that the whole collection of Glasgow Museums’ oil paintings has been brought together and we are very grateful to The Public Catalogue Foundation for the chance to do so.
Martin Bellamy, Major Projects and Research Manager
Text source: PCF / Glasgow Museums
This description was originally written for a catalogue.
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