City reclaims long lost Glasgow Fair painting

Conservator Polly Smith and curator Dr Jo Meacockthe view painting. Photo by Ian Watson.
Conservator Polly Smith and curator Dr Jo Meacockthe view painting. Photo by Ian Watson.

Glasgow Museums has secured for the city Glasgow Fair, a long-lost oil painting by Paisley-born artist John Knox (1778-1845).

The art work portrays the Glasgow Fair on Glasgow Green around 1819-1822.

The painting will go on show at Kelvingrove Art Gallery early next month.

Glasgow Fair depicts a detailed picture of a the crowds of Glaswegians that attended the Fair, that continues the tradition today.

A spokeswoman 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.

“There are the booths, sideshows and rides, with more than a thousand figures, bringing together rich and poor, the privileged, soldiers, street vendors and beggars.

Chair of Glasgow Life, Councillor Archie Graham, 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 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.

“I’ve no doubt it will be an immediate draw for our visitors.”

The painting was thought to be missing for more than 100 years; then, in 2013, at Sotheby’s in London, it was sold as by the Irish artist William Turner de Lond, depicting a fair in Aberdeen.

Subsequently it was recognised as the long-lost Knox with its landmark Nelson Monument at Glasgow Green in the background. Knox’ sense of humour is evident in the incident and detail of the painting.

These include soldiers from different regimental groups, traders, men gathered around a cock fight and a pickpocket. A woman can be seen trying to drag her drunk husband from a seller of alcohol. There are twins in the foreground in matching clothes. In the background there are signs for ‘Mr Taylor’s Olympic Circus’, which advertised slack wire, tight rope dancing, theatrical and horsemanship displays, and Wombwell’s Grand Collection of Beasts. There is also an anti-slavery booth, theatrical performances, freak shows and dancing.