John Knox’s painting of 19th century revellers flocking to Glasgow Green will be going on display at Kelvingrove art gallery next month after £220,000 was raised to buy it for the city’s art collection.
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The work of art, which Paisley-born Knox created in 1832, had been held in a private collection in the United States for several decades before being wrongly attributed to an Irish artist.
The Glasgow Museums service led a fundraising bid to buy up the painting, backed by the likes of the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Showman’s Guild of Great Britain.
Museums chiefs said it portrayed “a great Glasgow landmark, a famous Glasgow event and the crowds of Glaswegians that attended it” around 1819-22, a time when trade, commerce, art and enterprise were all flourishing in the city.
The painting, called “Glasgow Fair,” was put on display as part of the vast Glasgow International Exhibition which was staged at Kelvingrove Park in 1901, but was sold on by his family shortly afterwards and all trace of it was lost until 2013.
It came up for sale at auction in London, where it was said by Sotheby’s to be the work of Irish artist William Turner De Lond, who was known to have worked throughout Britain in the 1920s and 1930s, and visited Edinburgh in 1824 to record George IV’s visit to the capital.
The Glasgow Green oil painting, which was wrongly assumed to depict Duthie Park in Aberdeen, was then snapped up by Edinburgh art dealer Patrick Bourne, who work with Michael Stewart, a surviving relative of Knox to trace the provenance of the work, which he described as a “remarkable tour-de-force.”
Around 1000 figures are featured in Knox’s painting of the park, which was donated to the city by James II in 1450 and became the focal point of a huge horse and cattle fair held there every July for centuries.
Knox’s depicts the transformation of the event by the arrival of theatre shows, circus acts and drinking booths, as well as the historic monument of Admiral Horatio Nelson, which was erected in 1806.
The Glasgow Fair, last held on the city’s largest park in 1870 was to become the city’s traditional summer holiday, sparking a mass exodus to seaside destinations on the west coast.
Eagle-eyed visitors to Kelvingrove will be able to try to spot soldiers from different regimental groups, a group of men gathered around a cockfight, a pickpocket, a woman trying to drag her drunk husband from a seller of alcohol and an anti-slavery booth.
Archie Graham, chair of Glasgow Life, which runs the museums service, 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.”
A spokeswoman for the museums service said: “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.”
Colin McLean, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, added: “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.”
John Knox’s Glasgow Fair will be on show at Kelvingrove from 2 February.
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