This is not our first exhibition of the kind. In 1868 the Town Council, which has always had a sentimental side, chose an Exhibition of Old Glasgow Portraits as a suitable house-heating for their new Art Galleries. They put the matter in the hands of John Buchanan, LL.D. They could not have done better. Dr. Buchanan had a quite exceptional knowledge of Old Glasgow, the place and the people, and with Charles Heath Wilson as art coadjutor, he was able to gather together a wonderful collection, and to produce a catalogue of it, which is a mine of information on Old Glasgow. But even Dr. Buchanan was not able single-handed to overtake the work that has now been done by many willing hands, and this second collection has been more complete than the first, the selection more rigid, and the arrangement more systematic. Those who care for such things have done well to make good use of the rare chance. Such exhibitions can only be at long intervals – owners will not part frequently with their treasures – and indeed it will be hard ever again to get together a collection equally representative. Here, as elsewhere, people drift away more and more from their old moorings: some of the portraits of 1808 it has been impossible to trace in 1894: some have been refused by owners now out of touch with the Glasgow that had been the making of them: and year by year this process goes on in geometrical progression.
Of the various treasures in “Old Glasgow,” none have excited so much interest as the portraits. It needs some training to appreciate manuscripts or charters, old printing or old plate,even old views and maps – it needs none to enjoy the verœ effigies of our departed worthies, of those who, generation after generation, laboured, and we have entered into their labours. These men, who built up this Glasgow of ours, were strong men, and they did not spare themselves: their portraits speak for them, the marked features, the firm lips, the clear, steady eyes that watch how we too face the difficulties that they had to face at every turn.
The older portraits ranged in the First Gallery will have surprised many people: they are witnesses how old this Glasgow is that seems so new: London and Bristol, perhaps Norwich, none other, I think, of our trading-towns, could rival that array of old notables in wig and cloak, and of flounced and furbelowed dames. And the whole collection forms a pictorial history of Glasgow. Starting from this First Gallery the long procession, headed by Bishop Elphinstone with cope and crozier, follows every turn of our fortunes for fifteen generations, and brings us down to our own days from the days when Glasgow was a thatched village holding fewer people than the Columba carries on a Fair Saturday.
It is the bringing out of this historical view of the Collection rather than of its artistic merits that has guided the choice of the portraits now reproduced. Each portrait is meant to represent one of those elements out of which the Glasgow that we know has been built up.
The Church, of course, heads the procession. The Church has been the nucleus of most cities in Christendom, even the newest of them, and Glasgow has grown out of a little Mission-station among the heathen, even as a great African city may one day have grown out of Lovedale or Freretown. On the ground that Kentigern broke, three Churches (as we call them) have successively taken root – Romish, Episcopal, Presbyterian. Each of the three is well represented.1
After the Church come our University, and offshoot of the Church,2 and our Charities, and outcome of the Church’s teaching.3
Then come the various trades that have successfully gone to the making of Glasgow – the petty continental trade and the primitive sugar trade – which she had before the Union with England4;5 the Virginia trade, her first trade of any importance;6 the West India trade, which came to replace the lost Virginia Trade;7 the East India trade, opened up to her within the memory of men yet living;8 the cotton trade, long her leading industry;9 the iron trade, which with its various branches is now her staple;10 banking, which feeds every trade.11 All these are represented; and the great Provost who guided us through the ’45 is there to remind us that, without peace and security, industry and civilization must perish.12
Medicine,13 Law,14 Arms,15 Letters,16 Art,17 are represented by Glasgow men, and there are types of the beauty18 and of the vitality19 of Glasgow women.