Origins of the Collection, 1854-88
The museum opened in 1901, but the origins of the collections goes back to 1854, the year Archibald McLellan died.
McLellan, born in 1797, was a coachbuilder and prominent Glasgow citizen and art collector. He bequeathed his collection of over 400 paintings to the people of Glasgow, as well as the building in Sauchiehall Street that still bears his name, the McLellan Galleries.
McLellan’s paintings still form the backbone of Glasgow’s Old Masters collection. Early views of the interiors of the McLellan Galleries show the paintings hung in typically Victorian fashion, with pictures ranged one above the other. When the Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts was founded in 1861, its annual exhibitions were held in the Galleries. The collection was taken down to accommodate them.
The City Industrial Museum was opened in 1870 in the former Kelvingrove Mansion.
The house was built in 1783 in the Adam style, and had been absorbed into the newly created Kelvingrove Park. James Paton was appointed the first overall Superintendent in 1876. He was in charge of the McLellan (or Corporation) Galleries of Art, and of the Kelvingrove Museum, as they became better known.
Paton made a huge contribution to the Arts in Glasgow. He was responsible for the Galleries being improved, and for a series of special exhibitions.
The museums’ annual report observed that Glaswegians:
‘discovered that they possess an Art Gallery, which, in several respects, is entitled to rank with famous galleries, and an institution which they may not only enjoy themselves, but point out with pride to strangers as one of the sights of the city’.
In 1866, James Paton and James Hunter Dickson, Chairman of the Museum and Galleries Committee, reported that both buildings were overcrowded.
They also said the McLellan Galleries were a serious fire hazard. And they concluded that this endangered the collections and hindered their proper use:
‘The urgent want of the Art Galleries and Museum of Glasgow is an instalment of a permanent building erected on a convenient and accessible site, sufficiently isolated to secure it from the risk of fire’.
The preferred site was in Kelvingrove Park.