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The Legacy of Glasgow’s International Exhibition of 1901

At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century International Exhibitions became very popular. The first 'world fair' had taken place in London in 1756, with the French adopting the tradition from the 1790s onwards. However, the 1851 Crystal Palace exhibition in London set a new standard and fashion for exhibitions of industry and culture. It focused on the international progress of the arts and industry.

Glasgow was in need of a new building that would encompass an art gallery, museum and art school, all on the same site. Here was a wonderful opportunity to elevate Glasgow onto the same plane as its rival cities, which were already in possession of impressive civic art galleries and museums. To raise funds for this ambitious venture the city decided to hold the International Exhibition in 1901.

Panoramic view of the Exhibition in 1901 (photo copyright of the University of Glasgow Library)

Kelvingrove Park was selected as the exhibition site. This unique opportunity ignited interest from a wide range of architects, both from within and outside of Scotland. Out of 62 designs, a pair of English architects won the competition. They were Simpson and Allen, whose style has been described as Hispanic baroque.

The exhibition took up 73 acres of Kelvingrove Park. And while the centrepiece was the new Palace of Arts (later to become Klevingrove Art Gallery and Museum – one of the must visit sights of any Glasgow Tour), it was dwarfed by the temporary Industrial Hall, designed by architect James Miller with Spanish, Turkish and Venetian ornamentation and a large golden dome atop. It featured a whole host of pavilions, concert halls, cafés and restaurants, and even an early example of a theme park ride in the shape of the Canadian Water Chute. Sadly, it was demolished after the Exhibition.

Russian Village by Fyodor Shekhtel 1901

Countries with close ties to Glasgow exhibited, including Japan, Canada and Russia. The Russian exhibition was the largest, whose 4 pavilions were designed by the architect Fyodor Shekhtel in a traditional Northern Russian style. His impressive wooden structures attracted great public attention. For this project Shekhtel was awarded the position of academic of the Imperial Academy of Arts of Russia and was commissioned to redesign the facade of the Yaroslavsky Railway Terminal in Moscow. He became known for his Art-Nouveau and Russian Revival intricate architectural designs.

Glasgow fostered its own Art-Nouveau architect Charles Rennie

Mackintosh kiosk 'Glasgow International Exhibition' in Studio Vol. 23 1901: Sp Coll P.A.A. f197

Mackintosh. Although he did not win the competition for the Industrial Hall building, he got the commission for three kiosks for the Exhibition where his talent shone bright and reflected the future architectural trend of the whole city which can be witnessed on our City Tour of Glasgow.

Later on in 1902-3 a room designed by Mackintosh featured in the exhibition Architecture and Craft of the New Style in Moscow. Allegedly, he was invited by Shekhtel who would have been familiar with Mackintosh's work from the Glasgow Exhibition. However, there is no evidence that they actually met at the Exhibition in 1901.

When the Glasgow Exhibition finally closed its gates to the public on 9 November 1901, more than 11 million people had attended. A substantial profit had been made, and the citizens of Glasgow had gained a magnificent building, that consequently became an iconic site of the city.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum today

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