Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum (Glasgow)

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is one of the UKs great civic institutions. It is a magnificent gothic pile of a building, built from red sandstone around the turn of the twentieth century. It has a truly magnificent situation, at the edge of the lovely hilly Kelvingrove Park, and overlooked by the spiky silhouette of Glasgow University at the top of Gilmorehill.Viewing the Museum from the busy thoroughfare of Argyle Street, the visitor is impressed by the ornate fa├žade, and it comes as a surprise to learn that what you are looking at is actually the back aspect of the building. The even more elaborate front side faces directly onto Kelvingrove Park. There is a persisting apocryphal story that the architect of the building intended it to face onto the road, and when he realised that it had mistakenly been constructed back to front, he leapt to his death in despair from the highest of the towers. That story is still told with relish although it is well known to be untrue. The front of the building was always intended to face the park rather than the road.The building houses a museum whose main features are the collection of arms and armour, and natural history exhibits, as well as an extremely impressive art collection. Formerly the ‘museum’ side of things was shown throughout the open expanse of the ground floor, with the art being housed upstairs. When the museum and gallery closed down for refurbishment between 2003 and 2006, it was decided to mix things up a bit more, since under the old arrangement, many visitors never made it upstairs to see the art. In the new arrangement, rooms featuring either ‘life’ (armour, dinosaurs, etc) or ‘expression (the art) are situated both on the upper and the lower levels, encouraging visitors to expand their horizons.The refurbished gallery with its fresh, clean new look has been very popular with visitors, and indeed it has been described as the most popular free visitor attraction in Scotland, eclipsing even Edinburgh Castle, at least for the time being.The art collection itself contains many gems. Unsurprisingly, many Scottish artists are featured, in particular the Glasgow School and the Scottish Colourists. There is also an interesting exhibit showcasing the Glasgow artist and architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who is perhaps best known for his angular, decorative Art Nouveau interiors. There is also a very fine collection of French impressionists, and Old Masters too, including some Rembrandts.One of the best known pictures in the gallery is the Salvador Dali painting known as ‘Christ of St John of the Cross’. This painting which has inspired love and reverence as well as loathing for its perceived vulgarity, is a brightly coloured work showing Christ crucified, hovering in the heavens and looking down onto the earth. The perspective is looking down from high up, onto the Sea of Galilee. This work is exhibited in a prominent position as befits its fame, or as some would say its notoriety.If Dali is not your taste, you should not be deterred. The gallery has a magnificent collection, one of the finest in the UK, beautifully presented in a lovely location, and entry is completely free of charge.