Glasgow Museums Secures John Knox's Painting 'Glasgow Fair'
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Glasgow Museums Secures John Knox's Painting 'Glasgow Fair'


Glasgow Musuems Secures John Knox's Painting 'Glasgow Fair' for the City

Glasgow Museums has secured Glasgow Fair, a long-lost oil painting by Paisley-born artist John Knox (1776/8-1845), for the city.  The ambitious art work portrays the Glasgow Fair on Glasgow Green around 1819-1822.  The purchase was made with the generous support of the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, Trustees of the Hamilton Bequest and Friends of Glasgow Museums.  The painting will go on show at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow at the beginning of February. 

Glasgow Fair is certain to delight visitors to Glasgow Museums as it tells Glasgow’s story.  The extraordinarily detailed painting depicts a great Glasgow landmark, a famous Glasgow event and the crowds of Glaswegians that attended it.  The colourful, lively piece is full of humour.  It illustrates the renowned event, held annually on Glasgow’s oldest common, in the early years of the city’s expansion when trade, commerce, art and enterprise were flourishing. 

The painting’s incredible detail and social commentary is likely to appeal to a broad audience, with viewers able to relate to many of the aspects Knox portrays.  It is a very grand landscape, complex in composition and astounding in the number of people and cross-section of society conveyed.  There are the booths, sideshows and rides, together with over a thousand figures, bringing together rich and poor, the privileged, soldiers, street vendors and beggars.

Chair of Glasgow Life, Councillor Archie Graham, said: “John Knox’s Glasgow Fair is a painting that belongs to Glasgow and we are delighted to welcome it home to the city.  The visually striking work has great relevance for the people of Glasgow as it was painted by a local artist, who lived in the city for most of his life.  And it shows Glaswegians enjoying themselves at the Glasgow Fair, in the city’s oldest park.  It also helps us understand the historical importance of a holiday many of us still enjoy every July.

“I’ve no doubt it will be an immediate draw for our visitors.  They can learn lots more about the painting and the artist through a programme of events and activities that will accompany its display at Kelvingrove.”

The Heritage Lottery Fund’s Manager for Scotland, Colin McLean, said, “This painting is striking to look at and provides an important window into the social heritage of Glasgow. We are delighted to be able to provide our support for its acquisition and are sure that, given its new accessibility in Kelvingrove, it will be a source of great discovery and delight for people of all ages. 

The painting was thought to be missing for over 100 years, then in 2013 at Sotheby’s in London it was sold as by the Irish artist William Turner de Lond, depicting a fair in Aberdeen.  Subsequently it was recognised as the long-lost Knox with its landmark Nelson Monument at Glasgow Green in the background.

Knox sense of humour is evident in the incident and detail of the painting; he wanted his viewers to be entertained as they recognised characters in the scene.  These include soldiers from different regimental groups, traders, men gathered around a cock fight and a pickpocket.  A woman can be seen trying to drag her drunk husband from a seller of alcohol.  There are twins in the foreground in matching clothes. In the background there are signs for ‘Mr Taylor's Olympic Circus’, which advertised slack wire, tight rope dancing, theatrical and horsemanship displays, and 'Wombwell's Grand Collection of Beasts', the largest travelling menagerie in Britain. There is also an anti-slavery booth, theatrical performances, freak shows and dancing.

The acquisition is supported by the Showman’s Guild of Great Britain.  They recognise the importance of the painting in demonstrating the contribution of the history and heritage of travelling Showpeople to the development of the city.

The colour and detail make the painting easily accessible to the large family audience that visits Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.  The more weighty subjects covered, such as slavery, poverty and freak shows will provide a focus for educational visits.  While the appeal of the painting will extend out to those with an interest in textiles, the military, local history and Scottish art.

The painting will go on show at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow at the beginning of February.  The display will be complimented by a programme of events and activities, including storytelling, creative writing, multi-sensory workshops, schools visits, specialist talks and family weekends.  For more information visit


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