Glasgow International Exhibition

Scope and Content

Glasgow International Exhibition, 1901. Photographs.

Administrative / Biographical History

As the twentieth century came to a close with the celebration of Glasgow as City of Architecture 1999, so the century opened with the Glasgow International Exhibition of 1901 , an amazing demonstration of Victorian self confidence which proudly displayed the great progress made in industry, science and art during the nineteenth century. Although such exhibitions were popular in France from the seventeenth century onwards, the first truly international exhibition to be held in Britain was the 1851 event held at the custom-built Crystal Palace in London. Proving to be massively popular with the public, its success resulted in a craze for further large - and increasingly grander - exhibitions. The first great universal exhibition held in Glasgow occurred in 1888. This was a roaring success and its profits went towards funding a new and permanent Art Gallery and Museum, to be situated in Kelvingrove Park. Its foundation stone was laid in 1897 and the second exhibition of 1901 was conceived to inaugurate the new building. This was the biggest UK event to be organised so far in the new century, although the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle must be given the accolade for being the very first exhibition of the twentieth century.

The exhibition was officially opened on 2 May 1901, and it ran until 9 November. The exhibition site sprawled over 73 acres in Kelvingrove Park in the west of the city. Its centrepiece was the new Kelvingrove Art Galley and Museum which appropriately housed the Fine Art section, including work by the Glasgow boys who were by now acknowledged as internationally important artists. But the exhibition's main building was the temporary Eastern Palace; its architect was James Millar who won an open competition with his design which satisfied the extravagance demanded by the public. This Oriental fantasy, with its strong suggestions of 16th century Spanish Renaissance architecture, was topped by a grand dome adorned by an electric-torch wielding golden angel of light. There were also separate buildings for industrial and machinery displays, concert halls, foreign pavilions, numerous restaurants and cafes, as well as many minor buildings covering subjects such as agriculture and heating and lighting.

The complexity of organising and mounting such a massive event is hard to comprehend. This was a truly international affair with exhibits and people demonstrating products from all over the world: of the many temporary buildings constructed, for example, a whole Russian village of 7 buildings (4 of them being magnificent pavilions) was erected; there was a model farm complete with working dairy, windmill and grieve's house, a Grand concert hall with seating for more than 3,000, and a new sports ground at Gilmorehill with a four-lap cement cycle track, cinder pedestrian course, football pitch and stand accommodation for 25,000 spectators. The suggestion of limitless resources was enhanced by the breathtaking electrical illuminations that lit up many of the attractions by night. Although it lacked the novelty of 1888, Glasgow's second major exhibition was still enormously popular, resulting in attendance figures of over 11,000,000. The exhibition was an international shop window. Its accompanying guides and programmes, which were lavishly illustrated with advertisements from the participating companies, meant that information about products could reach a wide audience far beyond those who could actually attend in person. An excited and rowdy crowd bent on plundering the exhibition for souvenirs was expected. As is turned out, rain ensured that many stayed away and there was little trouble. The materials and fittings were auctioned off, and the profit made was invested in restoring the park; the surplus went to the Art Purchase Fund to enhance the new art galleries further.

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