Glasgow Life Museums acquires famous oil painting by legendary Scottish artist Alasdair Gray

Alasdair Gray’s iconic painting, Cowcaddens Streetscape in the Fifties, has been acquired for Glasgow Museums’ collection. Before display at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum the painting will be conserved at Glasgow Museums Resource Centre where academics and fans will be able to see it through tours and research appointments.  

A Life In Pictures . Page 116 to page 120 . Canongate 2010 by Alasdair Gray … Only the last was completed. It was based on sketches and ideas for the Monkland Canal picture.I had given up trying to paint as a third year art student in 1955. Almost 4 feet by 8 it is still my best big oil painting. The buildings are shown accurately in relation to each other, though the road up to the canal on the right and downhill on the left was actually straight, with the central road ( leading to the city's destructor plant ) at right angles to it , so a sliding viewpoint shows the place from Port Dundas in the north to St Aloysius Church in the south round an angle of 180 degrees. this bent perspective means that the distant gas lantern on the right and the near one on the left are different views of the same . The near electrical street lamp with the old man on the right are both distantly viewed in the left. ( In 1955 street lighting still had a few gas lamps in proximity to electric ones. ) The picture also has a time shift . The foreground faces belong to the couple whose figures are downhill left.
Cowcaddens Streetscape in the Fifties, 1964 Alasdair Gray
Courtesy & copyright The Estate of Alasdair Gray
oil (and mixed media) on board
overall: 1215 mm x 2240 mm

Painted in 1964, it is one of Gray’s best-known works and what he referred to as “my best big oil painting.” The work was also a key part of the artist’s retrospective  – From The Personal To The Universal – which was curated by Sorcha Dallas at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in 2014 as part of the wider Alasdair Gray Season she devised.

This addition has been made possible through the generous support of The National Fund for Acquisitions, administered with Scottish Government funding by National Museums Scotland.

Cowcaddens Streetscape in the Fifties is a significant example of his painting within the decade following his graduation from GSA in 1957. It will enhance the holdings that were acquired or gifted from the artist including City Recorder (1977–78) and the Moira McAlpine Bequest 2015. It will also relate to works by his peers at GSA – Carole Gibbons and Alan Fletcher – and works in the collection relating to the documentation of Glasgow through the fine art holdings.

Cowcaddens Streetscape in the Fifties, shows life in an area of Glasgow where the landscape and community changed radically post-war.. The painting captures the look and feel of daily life in Cowcaddens and is a powerful way of engaging with Glasgow’s past. It highlights how buildings, streets and people give the place its character.

Bailie Annette Christie, Chair of Glasgow Life, said: “This painting is a remarkable addition to our collection of works by the legendary Alasdair Gray. It is a powerful image of Glasgow by an artist with strong links to the city and belongs in a public collection where Glaswegians and visitors can enjoy it. Acquisitions like this strengthen Glasgow’s world-class museum collections. They also help people to get involved in and feel inspired by the culture our city has to offer.”

Hazel Williamson, National Fund for Acquisitions Manager, said: “We’re delighted to support the acquisition of this important work by Alasdair Gray, one of the most significant figures in Scottish art and literature during the postwar era. His art and writing articulated the identity of Glasgow and its people and it is therefore particularly fitting that the painting should find a home in the city collection.

The Estate Alasdair Gray said: I am thankful for the City of Glasgow purchasing the Cowcaddens Streetscape on behalf of the citizens of Glasgow, Scotland and art lovers around the world. The mural is bold and innovative in its use of altered perspective and time shift to portray the city and the stages of life of its inhabitants.

The Alasdair Gray Archive said: “The Alasdair Gray Archive (AGA) is delighted that Glasgow Life Museums has acquired ‘Cowcaddens Streetscape in the Fifties’. This is Alasdair Gray’s most significant painting, and it is timely that it is now housed within the city’s main public galleries. This work was inspired by the landscape of Garnethill and the canal near where AGA is based at Applecross.”

The previous owner of Cowcaddens Streetscape in the Fifties, Angela Mullane refers to her friend’s own words to talk about the importance of this work for Glasgow and Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum:

“I started making maps when I was small showing places, resources, where the enemy and where love lay” Alasdair Gray, Lanark

“One day Mum put some of my scribblings in a handbag and took me by tram to Kelvingrove. She had read in a newspaper that Miss Jean Irwin held an art class on Saturday mornings in Kelvingrove… I drifted around looking at what these kids painted while Mum showed my scribbles to Miss Irwin, who let me join her class.

For the next five years Saturday mornings were my happiest times” Alasdair Gray, A Life in Pictures

Alasdair Gray (28 December 1934 – 29 December 2019) was a Scottish artist and writer. While prolific in his visual art practice until his death, Gray was recognised for his writing in Scotland with his most famous novel Lanark published in 1981. His writing was widely published and on his death he was renowned internationally with Nicola Sturgeon (First Minister of Scotland, 2014–23) saying ‘Alasdair Gray was one of Scotland’s literary giants, and a decent, principled human being.’ In the latter part of his life his artwork came into greater public awareness with Gray participating in the British Art Show 7 (2010–11) and his work was shown in his home city – Glasgow – with Alasdair Gray: City Recorder (2011–12) at GoMA and the Alasdair Gray Season (2014) – including a retrospective at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum – to mark his 80th birthday.

Gray was born in Riddrie in the east of Glasgow in 1934 and attended The Glasgow School of Art in the mid-1950s. From this time onwards Gray was a prolific poet, playwright, novelist, painter and printmaker. His work was and continues to be celebrated in books, exhibitions, conferences and the annual Gray Day (25 February). His connection to Glasgow and his use of the city for inspiration, birth for writing and artwork is well documented. Gray studied in the Mural Department while at The Glasgow School of Art and while some his early murals are lost or in private homes, others do exist, for example at the Ubiquitous Chip restaurant in Glasgow’s West End, near where Gray lived. His time in this department was important to his thinking about free access to culture through libraries and museums, but also how art is embedded in the landscape and later significant murals were made for Òran Mór arts venue and SPT Hillhead Station. His connection to and the understanding of his work in Glasgow make Glasgow Museums the obvious choice for this acquisition.

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