EARLY one morning in May, the sky wan as a pencil sketch, seven men are taking a large painting down from a wall. Breathing heavily with strain and nerves, they ripple the usually placid air of St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art. We are in Townhead, once the centre of Glasgow but left to decline as the city seeped westwards.

Now the painting too is heading west.

"As soon as these screws are out, " Alex Norris warns his fellow museum technicians who are pushing whitening palms upwards against the bottom of the frame, "all the weight is going to go down."

This is not a painting that anyone wants to drop. Salvador Dali's Christ Of Saint John Of The Cross is Scotland's favourite work of art and the envy of other nations; the Spanish government is said to have offered GBP80 million for it a few years ago. Dali depicts Christ crucified, but painted from an unusual perspective, as if the artist were God himself looking down on his suffering son.

The labours of these men to take the painting off the wall, the seriousness they bring to the task, seems somehow religious in itself, a 14th station of the cross; a lamenting Mary might easily burst in and embrace the canvas as it is unscrewed and lowered reverently to the floor.

Today, May 22, Christ Of St John Of The Cross is being removed from St Mungo, its home since 1993, and after a few days will be returned to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, where it first went on display in 1952.

Moving the painting is a symbolic and populist act - it's coming home, it's coming home, the Dali's coming home! - a key part of an almost GBP35 million refurbishment of Kelvingrove, which has been closed since 2003 and will reopen this month amid much expectation and excitement.

As the final screws are removed, the painting's top end tips out from the wall. It is brought down slowly and comes to rest in an upright position on black blocks of special foam used in the storage of museum objects. High on the wall, a spotlight picks out a now empty space, emphasising the absence. Staff here say that on sunny days coloured light would shine through the stained glass and give the painting the appearance of having wings. It was a pleasing optical quirk, but no one will ever see it again. This is a sad day for St Mungo; the general feeling is that they are losing their star attraction to a gallery that would have been able to draw crowds without it.

A sheet of Melinex polyester is spread on the floor and upon it a grid of acid-free paper and twine. The painting, which measures around seven feet by four, is covered and sealed with tape. Bubble Wrap protects the corners. It's a 21st century shroud, transparent and chemically inert.

Using leather straps, the painting is lifted and carried out of the gallery, past Harry Dunlop, curator of St Mungo, who has been standing silently at the back of the room, wearing a long black coat, looking grave and numb as any bereaved parent. Peter Marshall, the logistics manager in charge of this operation, guides the painting round a corner of the stairs. The whole scene has an air somewhere between funeral procession and flitting. French tourists look on amazed, and an excited guide froths, "Ca, c'est la tableau la plus celebre, d'Ecosse!"

The painting is lifted into a white van, secured to the left wall with blue straps, and covered with a rough and grubby blanket. Jim Keatings, who went up a ladder and removed the first screw, rubs his chin and contemplates a job well done. "I was really nervous. I could feel my legs shaking. You're conscious that if you drop a screw or the screwdriver then you could rip the painting."

Christ Of St John Of The Cross is driven a short distance to Martyr's School, where Glasgow Museums have offices. In the painting conservation studio, it is taken out of its frame and mounted on an easel. Polly Smith, the senior conservator, removes a layer of dust with a brush and uses solvents to treat abrasions to the varnish. Her colleague Eddie Rose works on the frame, adding a layer of low-reflection glass, made specially in Germany, which will protect the painting from anyone who tries to touch it or do it harm, as well as creating a stable microclimate free of damp and dirt.

The glass makes the painting much heavier than before, so hanging it is tougher than taking it down. But the team use scaffolding - "3-2-1 . . . go!" - and in only 25 minutes it is screwed to the wall at the end of a long corridor, an icon visible from right across on the other side of the building. It is June 2, Kelvingrove is over a month from opening, and there are still hunners of things to do, but with the Dali back in place, it feels like a resurrection of sorts has already occurred.

KELVINGROVE closed for refurbishment on June 29, 2003. For more than 100 years it had been a much-loved building in Glasgow, beautiful on the outside, fascinating on the inside, and - crucially in a city with a high proportion of families living in poverty - free.

"And as long as I have a breath in my body, " says Lord Provost Liz Cameron, "it will remain free."

More than one million people visited each year, making it the most popular museum outside London. However, by the time it closed, Kelvingrove was badly in need of tender loving care. The walls were almost black with the soot of decades, partitioning had butchered the interior, the building was by turns too cold and too hot, and the roof leaked so badly that every night several buckets had to be set out to collect water;

one former curator compares it to Mervyn Peake's dysfunctional fictional castle Gormenghast. Essentially, Kelvingrove was a Victorian building ill-suited to the needs of the 21st century; it took three people to change each lightbulb, and there were a hell of a lot of those.

In three years, Kelvingrove has had a significant makeover, and most people's first impression will be that it is a much brighter place. Apart from some glazing and landscaping, almost all the work was internal.

The stone has been cleaned, using a latex peel, almost like a face pack, and is now the lipsmacking colour of an oat and honey cookie.

All the partioning, which blocked windows and sightlines, has been removed and the building drenched in light.

There is 35per cent more display space than before, and almost twice as many objects, around 8000, are now on view; you can see everything from Kelvingrove's smallest treasure, a 1mm flake of Bronze Age gold, to its largest, an eight metre prehistoric canoe. While we are talking superlatives, let's note that Kelvingrove is also home to the world's most venomous mammal (the male duck-billed platypus, as deadly as he is bizarre, thanks to poison-tipped spurs) and the smelliest - the striped skunk, mephitis mephitis, so stinky they named it twice.

The lower ground floor has been opened out and excavated, and now features a restaurant, shop, lecture theatre and temporary exhibition space; the Campbell Hunter Education Wing will open next year.

What happened to the 200,000 artifacts once stored downstairs? Moving them and the pieces which were on display to the purposebuilt Glasgow Museums Resource Centre in Nitshill, was the job of Angela Doyle, the decant manager. Doyle is the sort of person who never loses her keys. "The scale of the job was daunting at first, but you just have to break it down into manageable chunks, " she says.

"Otherwise you would go mad."

Moving the objects to Nitshill and back required five miles of Bubble Wrap and 1.5 miles of tape. Doyle oversaw the shifting of 38,000 fossils, 6500 stuffed birds, and around 2000 live bees. Only five items remained in Kelvingrove, considered unmoveable on the grounds of bulk and weight, among them Sir Roger, the Indian elephant which has been part of the collection since 1901 and became a talisman for the refurbishment project.

He stayed on site in a wooden shed; on her visits to Kelvingrove, the Lord Provost always stopped by for a chat with Sir Roger whom she felt must be very lonely.

Doyle is now managing the final stage of moving objects back into Kelvingrove; the last piece will be a Kalashnikov rifle, which must be returned under police supervision. However, the most challenging object she dealt with was the Spitfire, originally part of Glasgow's 602 Squadron, which hangs from the roof of the West Court, spanning the room like the most dramatic ship in a bottle you have ever seen.

There are only a few inches between the tips of its wings and the walls on either side.

The Spitfire is part of a rather dramatic tableau which is bound to appeal to children or anyone who relishes the sight of a beautiful fighter aircraft zooming low over a menagerie of stuffed animals, including Sir Roger, a giraffe, and a moose which looks considerably more smug than its situation demands.

It took 18 months of planning to get the plane in place. "There were so many times that I didn't think it was going to happen, " says Doyle. "The day when it was actually put up in the air was the easiest bit. That only took about an hour. It was nerve-wracking, but I feel thrilled when I see it now."

According to Anthony McReavy, head of the entire project, "Angela regards it as her Spitfire, because she pretty much paid for it in blood and sweat."

In the opposite East Court, 95 large, bald fibreglass heads, suspended from wires and lit from below, are turning gently in the air. These are not an exhibit as such, but part of the new design of Kelvingrove. Sophy Cave of museum designers Event Communications, explains.

"We needed a visual 'wow' to match the west side. It had to fill the space in the way that the Spitfire does, be visible and exciting from 360 degrees, and draw the visitor's eye up so that they become aware of the upper floor galleries.

"The original thought was lots of helium balloons taking off round the space, which would represent the creative thoughts of all the artists who worked on the paintings and pieces in these galleries. Then because this side of Kelvingrove deals with the arts and expression, we decided on faces expressing different emotions. It's an unconventional and playful solution, and the public will love it or hate it."

What the public think has been an important consideration for everyone involved in the project. "Kelvingrove belongs to the people of Glasgow, " says the Lord Provost.

"People like my dad, and the community I came from - Partick - have always felt they have a greater stake in this place because they live beside it. I have never been to any other city where there is such love for a building and institution. The people really want Kelvingrove back and they are so tired of it not being there.

When we hand it back to them, it is going to be a great gift. We have burnished it, but we should never forget it is theirs."

It is expected that between 15 and 20,000 people will visit Kelvingrove on the day it reopens. The council estimates 1.5 million visitors in each of the first two years, although some predict as many as 2 million, around a quarter of whom will be tourists. It is likely to overtake Edinburgh Castle as Scotland's most popular attraction.

That said, the point of the project was not to increase visitor numbers, or the amount of time each person spends in Kelvingrove. "The quality of the visit is just as important, " says Anthony McReavy, who will manage Kelvingrove when it reopens. "By that I mean what people get out of it. Not just what they learn but whether there's been an emotional and social impact. If they decide that museums are interesting places to come and meet people then that's as valid as learning three facts about Charles Rennie Mackintosh, probably more so."

Thus, the public services - entrances, lifts, signage, eating and shopping facilities - have been overhauled, and the gallery space has had a substantial rethink. "One of the most shocking things we discovered through our research was that of the 1.1 million visitors a year, two-thirds of them never went up to the top floor, which was where all our art was, " says McReavy. "Some of the highlights of our collection - internationally renowned pieces by people like Rembrandt - and no one saw them.

"So we have tried to address that. We worked with people like retail consultants, and thought about where we located some of our displays in order to draw people through, almost as if it were a store. On the principle that you always put the milk at the back of the shop, we thought carefully about were we put Ancient Egypt and Mackintosh, which we knew would be popular displays."

TOURING Kelvingrove in the company of McReavy and the Lord Provost is rather like strolling through an electrical storm between two lightning rods; they are both fully charged with enthusiasm, and she in particular is practically giving off sparks. "This is beautiful!

Is that a Bellini?" she asks. "Aren't we lucky?

That's a Carlo Dolci!" A former college lecturer, she is a rather winning mix of ditzy and didactic; at one point, we wander into the east court, which has names of famous Scots round the walls.

"There's only one woman, " says McReavy.

"Is there?" the Provost asks.

"It's Mary Queen of Scots."

"Oh! My heroine!" she exclaims. "She and I share the same hair colour."

McReavy says that the Kelvingrove collection has been arranged according to "an entirely new philosophy that isn't found anywhere else in the UK. "We have divided our museum notionally around left and right, east and west." The west side, with the Spitfire and stuffed animals, is known as Life; it deals with people and the environment - human history, archaeology, anthropology etc. The east side, with the heads, is Expression, and deals with the expressive arts - painting, sculpture, design and so on.

The general approach of the curators, which they have been developing since 1990, is thematic. There are 22 themes within Kelvingrove, each corresponding with a gallery - French Art, Scottish Wildlife etc. Then within each of the galleries there are a number of different stories, around 100 in total. So, for example, the Conflict And Consequence gallery is arranged to tell the stories of - among other things - The Battle of Langside and Marianne Grant, a Holocaust survivor who painted Auschwitz and came to settle in Glasgow.

"Traditionally, " says McReavy, "museums organise their collections around curatorial classifications such as Paleolithic and PostImpressionism, using concepts that are often very well understood among the museum community, but don't mean a great deal to our visitors. We decided that, philosophically, what we wanted to do was tell stories to people.

Most people understand the world around them through stories, through narrative, through human experience, and one of the features of those stories is often that they don't distinguish between fine art and natural history and decorative art. It's all just stuff. So we looked at developing multi-disciplinary displays to tell a story."

This is one reason why, to a certain extent, the Kelvingrove collection has been jumbled up. It's why there are stuffed birds in the Mackintosh And Glasgow Style gallery, a suit of armour among the Italian Renaissance art, and an ancient ceremonial stone sitting next to George Henry and EA Hornel's 1890 painting Druids Bringing In The Mistletoe. Event Communications have designed some nifty flexible display cases which will allow the exhibits to be easily changed and moved around. Research shows that Kelvingrove has an unusually large audience of repeat visitors, so in order to keep the experience fresh, the plan is to change 10per cent of the stories each year.

A team of nine curators, managed by senior curator Jean Walsh, is responsible for arranging and displaying the collection, although they have had to work closely and compromise with the design team. There has been some angst as various visions collide.

"But we're not arguing for argument's sake, " says Walsh. "We love our objects, we love our displays, we love Kelvingrove, and we want to do the best for the public. Most of us have spent ages in the stores, thinking about the story themes and which objects would tell the stories best."

There is certainly no shortage of things to look at. The overwhelming impression is that Kelvingrove is overwhelming. It's a gargantuan space, 6000 square metres, and packed with objects. It's remarkable then that Scottish Identity In Art is the only gallery which feels cluttered, and that has been done deliberately to give the kitschy aesthetic of a manic collector's hoard of Scottish artifacts. It is, to use the bon mot of Jean Walsh, "hoaching".

Whether you enter from the old Argyle Street entrance, or through the new ground level doors on the Kelvingrove Park side, beneath the bronze statue of St Mungo, you will begin your tour in the Main Hall. If you have a child with you, it's probably a good idea to turn into the West Court, pass beneath the Spitfire, and head directly into Creatures Of The Past, a gallery which features a large model Ceratosaur, a speedy carnivore recently purchased from Utah, a state as keen on paleontology as polygamy. Also in this gallery, the statuesque remains of a prehistoric deer; in the old Kelvingrove, only the antlered skull was on display, but now the whole skeleton has been assembled like some fabulous jigsaw.

The only way to coax that child away from Creatures Of The Past may be with a visit to the adjoining Ancient Egypt gallery. Glasgow doesn't have a huge Egyptian collection, but it has been boosted by a long-term loan from the British Museum, which includes a mummy from 664-525BC. You will also find the four and a half ton sarcophagus of Pabasa; a high dignitary in the reign of Psamtek I almost 3000 years ago, Pabasa would probably not be amused to learn that during Kelvingrove's renovation his final resting place was discovered to contain a Fifties porn mag.

Ancient Egypt leads into Glasgow Stories, which has some lighthearted material - Sydney Devine's rhinestone shirt, a venerable objet d'art - but generally seems quite gritty. There is material on sectarianism, mental health in Glasgow, and violence against women. "Some people think we shouldn't have a display like that in Kelvingrove, " says Jean Walsh, "but the fact is that it happens, and we have a duty to be relevant. A museum should always be pertinent to the public it serves; if it isn't then it's dead on its feet.

"We have a big tourist audience, but we have to think of our local audience as well. We need people to feel comfortable coming into our museum and knowing there's something there for them. We shouldn't shy away from difficult topics. Really, that's the beauty of Kelvingrove - it's big enough to accommodate something for everyone. We're not just an art gallery, we are an absolute melting pot and magical mix of everything."

Maybe so, but the art is what lots of people will come to see. Kelvingrove has a collection of over 1200 paintings. Some of the most popular are in the French Art gallery, which is basically Impressionism; steal away from Van Gogh and co for a moment, however, and visit a small chapel-like room off a corner of the French gallery. In here you will find the La Faruk Madonna, a Virgin Mary triptych painted around 1941 on old flour bags by a captive Italian soldier for a makeshift chapel in a British-run prisoner of war camp in Somalia.

A delicate and understated treasure, a small miracle of survival, its power comes from the human tale as much as from anything on the surface. The La Faruk Madonna seems to embody Kelvingrove's storytelling philosophy - the museum as campfire.

There are delights, of course, throughout Kelvingrove, depending on your taste. If you like the portraits of Sir Henry Raeburn, his gigantic painting of 1810, The MacNab, hangs in the Scottish Identity gallery, and depicts a proud Highland laird whose sporran is seemingly made from an entire badger, or perhaps even a small sheepdog.

Italian Art is a tiny yellow room, squeezed like a pimple between the Dutch and French galleries, but it too has its joys. Jean Walsh is particularly taken with a 1490 picture of a saint by Jean Hey. "This is absolutely gorgeous, a gem, " she says. "A lot of French museums would kill to have that."

Kelvingrove isn't all about art, though. The gallery devoted to Scotland's First People boasts the world's oldest ladder, which was built approximately 1000 years too soon to be used for putting up the world's first Ikea shelves. The gallery also features a stone ball carved around 3300BC and discovered in Aberdeenshire; archaeologists are unsure of its purpose, but we may surmise that it broke a few metatarsals in its time, and you wouldn't willingly head it.

Then there is the Conflict And Consequence gallery; Kelvingrove has one of the top three collections of arms and armour in the world, and this blood-red room bristles with ancient cold steel, as if there was a knife amnesty in the 16th century and the results all ended up here.

In fact, most of the material in this room comes from the bequest of RL Scott, a prominent shipbuilder, one of many wealthy Glasgow businessmen who left their personal collections to Kelvingrove. "His collection had two interesting features, " says Anthony McReavy. "One was that he worked with curators to build it so that it was museum standard. Secondly, he only collected material that had been used. So everything he bought has this incredible emotional resonance. It has drawn blood. It has been used in battle."

Conflict And Consequence is also home to one of the highlights of the whole Kelvingrove collection - the armour made in 1550 for William Herbert, First Earl of Pembroke, and his horse. "He was a fantastic figure, " says McReavy, "a kind of cross between Peter Mandelson and David Beckham, very politically significant but also a real star with incredible wealth and charisma."

SO how was the Kelvingrove refurbishment paid for? Lots of people chipped in lots of cash.

The Heritage Lottery Fund was the biggest spender with a GBP12.8 million grant. This was the most the HLF had ever awarded to a Scottish project, although since then they have given just under GBP16 million towards the Riverside Museum, Glasgow's new Museum of Transport, which is due to open in 2009.

Glasgow City Council committed GBP6.3 million to the Kelvingrove project. For them it is not just about reinvigorating a key cultural attraction, but also creating a platform from which they can sell Glasgow to the world.

Kelvingrove will be a central part of their bid to host the Commonwealth Games in 2014.

A further GBP12.75 million was raised by the Kelvingrove Refurbishment Appeal, headed by Lord Macfarlane, a plain-speaking 80-year-old Glaswegian businessman and life peer; there can be few other Partick Thistle fans who wear a cravat with such aplomb.

Although initially reluctant to take on the job - "I said I'd done it all before, I didn't agree with the Council's political views . . . and I was too old to work with people I didn't like, or I didn't feel would be competent" - Lord Macfarlane has made a huge success of it. Using his contacts within big business, he persuaded several very rich men to part with their money. Among these was Sir Tom Hunter, the former head of JJB Sports, whose Hunter Foundation has donated millions to supporting enterprise and education projects aimed at children in Scotland.

On learning that the museum had 300,000 school pupils visiting each year, Sir Tom became convinced that this was an opportunity to further his agenda of inspiring Scotland's kids to do something positive with their lives. So he invested GBP5 million to pay for the Campbell Hunter Education Wing, which includes a multi-media and hi-tech gallery named after his father. Chris van der Kuyl, the former head of Scottish computer games company Vis Entertainment, has been put in charge of developing the space, the contents of which must remain a mystery until 2007.

"I can't say too much, " Sir Tom explains, "because it's going to be a surprise on the day that it opens. But the project team have visited an awful lot of sites around the world. I want to make it world class, so whatever is happening that is the best in the world, I want to bring it to Scotland and into Kelvingrove. For example, as part of the team's fact-finding, I sent them across to California to have a look at Skywalker Ranch, which is George Lucas's educational park. We're hugely excited about this, and willing to take risks. It probably won't be what you expect to find in a museum."

According to Anthony McReavy, "We would love it if, having come to the space, the kids are inspired to go upstairs and engage with some of our displays. However, if they never return to Kelvingrove, but go away and read a book for the first time, then that's of more long-term significance than anything we could do."

In addition to the money from companies and trusts, the Kelvingrove Refurbishment Appeal also raised around GBP1 million in donations from over 4500 individual members of the public, all of whom will have their names - or those of loved ones - permanently recorded on the pillars of the Main Hall.

"We have been delighted by the response, " says KRA director Alan Horn. "People don't just respect Kelvingrove as a good museum, they really love the place. They met their future husband or wife here, or were brought here by their parents, or bring their own children here, and they have given money because of what Kelvingrove has meant to them."

The GBP35 million spent on refurbishing Kelvingrove sounds like a lot - it is a lot - but the whole project has been carried out with a cautious eye on budgets. In the context of the horrible publicity surrounding the construction of the Scottish Parliament, no one wanted to chance Kelvingrove turning into a vilified money-pit. "We could have spent three times as much without being at all extravagant, " says McReavy. "We haven't been able to do a full restoration. For example, we would have liked to have been able to get up and retouch and repair the ceiling but that was beyond us. As we get to the end, a lot of people have found themselves regretting that they weren't able to just finish off that last part."

THE truth is that Kelvingrove does not look like corners have been cut, and the Main Hall ceiling - for the record - is fabulous, a great arc of blue, red and gold. Beneath it, somewhere in the region of 500 people have grafted for three years to make this place as eye-poppingly, heart-stoppingly, jaw-droppingly awesome as it was when it first opened in 1901. Back then, Lord Provost Chisholm described Kelvingrove as "a wonderful palace of dreams", a phrase which today's Lord Provost, Liz Cameron, believes still holds true. It is certainly a terribly impressive building from its giant towers, which from September will be lit at night, to the underground ventilation passages, so large that maintenance workers can walk within them without stooping.

Wandering the various galleries and corridors, watching the curators putting the finishing touches to Kelvingrove - cutting an Elvis scuplture free from Bubble Wrap, arranging dozens of dead bees into a convincing swarm - it's obvious that this has not been a regular job for anyone; it has been a labour of love, even an obsession of sorts.

Anthony McReavy says he doesn't know what he's going to with himself when it's finished;

he'll be like one of those old soldiers who refuse to accept that the war is over.

There's something of the same emotion in the eyes of Liz Cameron as she runs her fingers over one of those honey-coloured walls. "In these very stones, " she says, "the history of our people over the last 100 years has been soaked up."

In 10 days' time, the stones will once more ring with the sound of the crowds. For the moment, the Tearoom table is set in the Mackintosh gallery, the Spitfire strafes an empty hall, and Dali's famous painting waits, arms outstretched, for another 50 years of devotion and damnation. Let Glasgow Flourish says the carving above the south entrance; that's a pretty good mission statement for the whole project, and as thousands of us pass beneath it and into Kelvingrove on July 11, we will see for ourselves how well it has been carried out.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Argyle Street, Glasgow, reopens on July 11. The opening ceremony begins at 10am outside the new lower ground floor entrance on the north (Kelvingrove Park) side. The event is unticketed but you should expect to queue. Parking is extremely limited and you are advised not to bring a car.

Instead, take the train to Partick Station, the Underground to Kelvinhall, or one of the following buses: 9, 16/A, 18, 42/A, 62. Opening hours are Monday-Thursday and Saturday 10am-5pm, Friday and Sunday 11am-5pm.

For further information call 0141 287 2699, or go to www. glasgowmuseums. com


"Saint John of the Cross was a 16th century Carmelite friar, a religious philosopher and poet.

There is a drawing that he did, kept in a monastery in Avila, Spain, of a crucifixion with Christ seen from above.

John of the Cross wasn't an artist but he seems to have done this drawing under some kind of divine inspiration. When Salvador Dali saw it, he too was inspired.

If you look at the bottom of the picture you will see some boats, rocks, and the sea.

The landscape is from a view that Dali had out of his window in his home town in Spain, Port Lligat. He included a couple of figures and a boat that he copied from some 17th century pictures, one by the Spanish artist Velasquez, and another by the French artist Le Nain.

The figure of Christ is perfect. He hasn't got any nails holding him on to the cross, and there is no blood. Dali said he wanted to show Christ as a perfect form; "beautiful as the God that he is" is how he put it. He actually asked an American movie stunt man, Russ Saunders, to pose for him, so he got a well-formed muscular body.

It was painted in 1951 and bought for Kelvingrove in 1952 for GBP8200 by Dr Tom Honeyman, the director of Art Galleries and Museums in Glasgow. It was very controversial.

This was an unusual picture for Dali. He did things with melting watches and so on, and this is more like an Old Master. A lot of the art critics at the time saw it as a backward step. They thought it had been a bad buy.

The painting was attacked in 1961 by a man with mental problems, who was then sent to an institution. He threw a bit of stone at it, then grabbed it with both hands and tore. Fortunately, it wasn't torn on the actual figure of Christ and it was skillfully restored.

When I started work in the museum in the Seventies, most of the art staff thought the painting was a bit of an embarrassment.

Right from the start, though, it was popular with the people. Now reproductions sell in millions, particularly in Catholic countries like Spain. It's not just the religious aspect that gives it power though. There's the drama of the pose and the contrast between dark and light. It's very striking and the perspective draws you in. Also the sheer perfection of the surface; you can hardly see any brush strokes.

We are continually asked to lend the painting out, but only rarely do, and I don't think we would ever sell it. Most members of the public seem glad that it is back in Kelvingrove after being in the St Mungo Museum. They say it is its spiritual home."


"I joined the Air Force in 1940 when I was 19. The Spitfire was a very tight aircraft; when you had an oxygen mask on and you turned left or right you would actually hit the canopy, unless you sort of withdrew your head a bit. You felt at one with the Spitfire right from the word go. It always felt like it was moulded around you. They didn't suit very big people, I may say.

We had two cannons and four machine guns, as opposed to the older models which had eight machine guns, and although it had a lot more punch, I never actually took to the cannon because they nearly always let me down in critical moments.

Once we were on patrol along the south coast towards Beachy Head. These German V1s were coming over thick and fast, and the Spitfire Mark 5 was not reckoned to be able to catch them. But we were told by control there was one approaching and, blow me down, it appeared about 1500 feet below me just in the right position so I was able to put the nose down and get a bit of extra speed. When I opened fire the cannon stopped after about three rounds . . . about 100 yards away, I looked up with the machine guns and the V1 blew up and I went right through a fire ball.

It was all very exciting.

Everybody was shooting V1s down, but not many people did it in Mark 5 Spitfires because they reckoned they weren't fast enough. Our top speed would be somewhere about 260, 280 perhaps, and the V1s could do up to about 500 miles per hour, so it was purely chance I had enough height to give it the extra speed to catch the thing up. But it was excellent.

I'm very glad LA198 is being restored.

People will be able to look at the Spitfire in 50, 100 years' time and say that's what it was. It's come back to its natural home. I think it's a great thing that it's coming back to Glasgow, and that it's going to take pride of place in Kelvingrove Museum."

This is an edited extract from Glasgow's Spitfire, published by Glasgow City Council (Museums)


"This is one of the largest spaces in the building. It has been a great opportunity for us to put out the breadth of our collection, a core part being the Ingram Street Tearooms, which contained interiors designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in the early part of the 20th century.

Mackintosh and Miss Cranston were so good for each other. She wanted innovative design to get people in the door of her tearooms, and it gave him a wonderful opportunity to experiment. Miss Cranston had a canny eye for what we today would call marketing and branding. She saw the potential of using young designers to create innovative rooms that people would want to visit. His designs would have been a real talking point in Glasgow.

We are showing a section from the Chinese Room (1911) and - for the first time ever - part of the Oak Room (1907). We also have a section from the Ladies' Luncheon Room (1900) - the stained-glass partition screen, a serving table, dining chairs and other items such as the coat stand, as well as the original decorative gesso panels mounted on the walls.

These panels were made by Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald just after they married.

Before going into the Tearooms, they were exhibited in Vienna, and are said to have influenced Gustav Klimt. They are an absolute high point of the gallery, as is Margaret's wonderful 1903 panel from the Salon de Luxe in the Willow Tea Rooms.

It never ceases to amaze me how refreshingly modern are these designs of Mackintosh and his contemporaries, as relevant today as at the time. Mackintosh stripped away so much fuss that his interiors create an air of calm, and we respond to that on an emotional level when we look at them.

In this gallery, more generally, we are introducing the Glasgow Style - the story of its formation, and its key forms and motifs such as the rose, the heart and flying birds. One section is purely focused on precious things - the metalwork, enamelwork, silver and glass of the period, trying to show the Style in context.

Another area has the title Women Adored, Women Adorned; many of the female artists and designers working in Glasgow were active members of the suffrage movement, and a number taught in the needlework and embroidery department of the School of Art;

we have examples of the clothes they made and wore to express their own artistic freedom.

There are a large number of pieces on display that people won't have seen since the Glasgow Style exhibition back in 1984, or at least the Glasgow Girls exhibition in 1990, but plenty of the old favourites are back as well.

What we want to do most of all is give visitors food for thought and get them excited."