Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum

At the end of February, I ventured up to Glasgow for an incredibly brief visit. Obviously, the limited time meant I had to pick my activities very carefully, and after much deliberation, I settled on the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum. It is Scotland’s most visited museum, so clearly it has something going for it!

Set out in the West End of Glasgow and on the edge of Kelvingrove Park, this sandstone hulk of a building opened in 1901 for the International Exhibition. It was built to replace ‘Kelvingrove House’ which had previously stood in the park, firstly as a residence from 1792 and then as a museum from 1872. The house was unfortunately flattened in 1899 having outlived its usefulness. The new museum originally housed 5000 pieces, but following a three-year, £28 million refurbishment, it is now home to an astounding 8000 objects in 22 different galleries. It’s not as extensive as other museums I’ve visited over the past few years (i.e. The Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay) but it has such an array of pieces that there’s something for everyone.

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As mentioned, the Kelvingrove is made up of 22 galleries, all with their own unique theme, from natural history to Dutch art, and Glaswegian social history to Ancient Egypt. But rather than writing about the museum in its entirety which could take me nearly six months to write, I’ve selected my favourite pieces from the collections to show you.

My first favourite is a painting by James Docharty, an artist who until now I had never heard of. This painting is titled ‘The Heart of the Trossachs‘ and left me astounded when I saw it. The level of detail is unbelievable, but the overall effect is immense. My photos really don’t do it justice. I know there are far more well-known works in this museum, but this is the one that left the most impact on me, and that is why it is on the list. It’s hard to describe the feeling but I’d say it was somewhere in between feeling like I was already standing there in the woods with the deer, but simultaneously desperately wanting to be there.

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The Heart of the Trossachs – James Docharty (1868)

Next up is this prehistoric giant: the Irish Elk. Interestingly, this creature is neither exclusively Irish, nor even technically an elk, leading some to just call it a ‘Giant Deer’. The Megaloceros giganteus lived mostly during the Pleistocene epoch all across Eurasia. Most of this species’ skeletons have been discovered in bogs in Ireland, hence the name ‘Irish‘ Elk, but remains have been found as far away as China. Many scholars believed the Giant Deer died out at the end of the Pleistocene 11,700 years ago, but a skeleton was found in Siberia which died as recently as 7,650 years ago. I know 7,650 years ago doesn’t really sound ‘recent‘ but given the Pleistocene began nearly 2.6 million years ago, I can’t think of another word for it! It was a monster of an animal, standing at up to 2.1 metres tall, with antlers that could reach up to 3.65 metres point-to-point and weigh up to 40kg. There’s still a bit of speculation as to why it finally became extinct, but a prevailing theory is that these immense antlers became too cumbersome for the animal to a point where it was getting stuck in trees, or couldn’t even lift its own head properly, leading it to starve to death.

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Irish Elk or Giant Deer – Megaloceros giganteus

Third up is the armour on the horse and the mannequin in the centre of the below display. It is the full suit of armour of William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke, and his horse. Despite there being far more intricate suits of armour in the room, Herbert’s is especially notable as it is 100% complete, and it belonged to one of the most reputable military men of the Tudor period. William Herbert was a hot-head from the go, and was described as “a mad young fighting fellow” and quickly gained notoriety as a soldier under the Earl of Worcester. Herbert later fled to the court of Francis I of France after killing a mercer in Bristol where he built up his reputation further. Interestingly enough, Francis I has featured on this blog before as a prominent figure of Fontainebleau‘s history. What a small world we live in! Either way, William gained such a name for himself in France, that he was recommended to Henry VIII and returned to court in England in due course. Under Henry, he became part of the landed gentry when he was given Cardiff Castle as well as estates in Remesbury and Wilton, which shows how much he was favoured by the King. The Earl promptly began construction of a dwelling that reflected his status, and thus Wilton House was born, which is still in the hands of the current Earl of Pembroke, (another) William Herbert.

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Armour of the 1st Earl of Pembroke and his horse

Finally, we reach a Scottish staple. The humble haggis. Most Britons are familiar with Scotland’s national dish, but it seems as though a handful of people are yet to catch up. According to a 2003 survey, 33% of the 1000 US visitors polled believed that haggis was an animal, a statistic that I’m sure you have seen floating around on the news and social media at various intervals since. The Kelvingrove have taken this finding and ran with it, going so far as creating the mythical ‘Haggis Scoticus‘ and presenting it in the museum alongside the real thing. I loved it so much that I just had to include it in this list.

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Haggis Scoticus alongside the traditional Haggis

Having never visited the Kelvingrove before, I was so surprised at the variety and sheer volume of ‘stuff’ on show. It’s so easy to get to, so if you’re ever in Glasgow, and have yet to visit, please do. You won’t regret it. To find out more about the museum, you can take a look at their website here. I’ve also added more photos that I didn’t fit into this post to my Flickr page, which can be found here.

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