FOR more than 100 years it was one of the busiest and most respected public galleries in Scotland, named after one of its greatest art collectors and annually housing the biggest art show in the land.

However, in recent years the McLellan Galleries in Glasgow has languished in obscurity, closed to the public, and lies empty and almost forgotten on one of the city's busiest shopping streets.

Now, however, a campaign is to be launched to return the McLellan Galleries to artistic and cultural use.

The new president of the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts (RGI), Karin Currie, wants her organisation's annual exhibition to return to the venue, as well as staging a special Commonwealth exhibition in 2014, when the Commonwealth Games are held in the city.

The RGI's first annual exhibition in 1861 was at the McLellan Galleries on Sauchiehall Street and the building hosted it until the galleries were required to house the collections of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum while it was being renovated. Then, until last year, its space was rented by the Glasgow School of Art.

The RGI understands around £100,000 needs to be spent on the building to make it habitable again for a tenant.

Ms Currie told The Herald: "It is shut up at the moment, and it was Glasgow's only purpose- built art galleries really, just an outstanding resource.

"The School of Art moved out last year, and what the RGI would like to do is have an exhibition there for 2014, the Commonwealth Games.

"It is mothballed at the moment, and it's a shame.

"It has eight galleries and it is quite spectacular. It is where it all began for Glasgow with [Archibald] McLellan's collection."

She added: "We will be a pressure group, we are not in any position to take it over, but we can take two months of the year for our annual exhibition. I doubt you will find anyone in Glasgow who would not want to see the RGI Annual Exhibition back at the McLellan."

Built in 1856, the galleries are named after Archibald McLellan (1795-1854), a coach builder, councillor and hugely influential patron of the arts. Following his death, Glasgow Corporation acquired the galleries.

In the 1980s, the galleries were damaged by a fire, but reopened in 1990.

While Kelvingrove was closed for refurbishment between 2003 and 2006, the McLellan Galleries hosted a display of its most famous works.

The McLellan is not controlled by Glasgow Life, the body that runs the Kelvingrove, and a spokesman for the council said: "We would be happy to discuss any proposals for the RGI's annual show, and look forward to hearing the detail of what is being suggested."

Ms Currie said: "I don't know what they want to do with the building. I think the council needs to clarify its status. Glasgow Life at the moment does not have responsibility for it. I cannot see that Glasgow would let it lie, but it would be very upsetting if it went out of the cultural sphere, into commercial operation.

"What needs to happen is that we have a consortium of people, like Lord Macfarlane [of Bearsden] did at Kelvingrove, and we need to bring international money into it, a package so it is sustainable and not a flash in the pan, but something that can get back into the international arena with regular exhibitions."

Ms Currie also wants to foster greater co-operation between the various institutions of what she calls Glasgow's traditional culture quarter, roughly between Blythswood Square and the Glasgow School of Art, an area also containing a number of galleries, art and antiques dealers, the GlasgowArt Club and the RGI.

"There's really not doubt that culture is what Glasgow is about and I think we should be waking up to it," she said.