The Old Course at Saint Andrews, the romance of the Highlands, the royal connections of Edinburgh: these often come to mind when people are thinking of Scotland. Glasgow often gets left out of the mix. It is a place, though, filled with history, art, architecture, romance, culinary experiences, shops aplenty, and music.
About that art, for example — there’s a range from prehistory to Viking to Victorian to cutting edge conceptual…
When I return to Glasgow, which I’ve been doing each year for well more than a dozen years now, one piece of art I always make time for is a work created by a person whose name isn’t known — in fact, almost nothing is known about the creator of this work. The power of mind visualizing image and hand touching stone, though, reaches across the centuries.
That stone is part of the Scotland’s First Peoples area at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, which is a treasure trove of not only visual art but of natural and social history, archaeology, design, and the history of Scotland. More about Kelvingrove in a bit, but first, there are other stones you should visit:
These are several of the carved stones located in Govan Old Church. They date from the ninth to the eleventh century. Both Celtic and Nordic influences can be seen in the carvings, which mark a time of Viking influence along the Clyde. If you’d care to delve into the archaeology a bit more, there’s an episode of Time Team about the Govan stones.
Back at Kelvingrove, another area I always visit is that dedicated to the work of the Glasgow Boys. This became a nickname for the work of a group of roughly twenty painters whose work drew on landscape and legend and inspiration from artists working in Japan and in France to help move painting in Scotland from the precise formality and dark colors popular during the early to mid Victorian years to a brighter palette. They had several broad ranges of subjects: rustic life and work, capturing movement and light in day to activities, and ideas which included hints (or large doses) of mysticism.
Art of the Orient was one of the influences on architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh. There will be more to come on his work in a future story, but for now, you may want to know that Glasgow celebrates Mackintosh through the whole month of October each year, with events including talks, concerts, and exhibits.
Kelvingrove has contemporary art among its holdings, too. Especially memorable, and something that always makes me smile, is Sophie Cave’s sculpture reflecting the range of human emotion which hangs in the main hall and was especially commissioned for the museum.
A visit to the Gallery of Modern Art in the city’s center always makes me smile, as well. The art inside may serious or challenging — it’s a home for many changing exhibits as well as regular displays of part of the city’s extensive collections — but the statue of the Duke of Wellington which sits outside the museum is rarely without headgear the sculptor who designed it in 1844 did not include.
That could serve as a metaphor for the art you will find in Glasgow: connected to history but not limited by that connection.
Soundtrack to accompany your explorations of Glasgow’s art: music from native Glaswegian Eddi Reader. Of her many excellent recordings, one of my favorites is the expanded edition of her take on the Songs Of Robert Burns.
Photographs of Govan stones courtesy of Deadmanjones and joedkins
Photographs of Duke of Wellington statue courtesy of Paul Johnston-Knight and Thomas Nugent
Other photographs courtesy of Glasgow Life, and made with permission of Glasgow Life and Glasgow Museums by Kerry Dexter
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