The Cuninghame Mansion is one of the few surviving 18th century town houses built for Glasgow's wealthy mercantile elite. Today it forms part of the Gallery of Modern Art in Royal Exchange Square, although the original structure is not at first easy to identify, having been encased by a massive extension dating from the late 1820s.
The Palladian-style mansion was erected between 1778 and 1780 from the design of an unknown architect. Its first owner was William Cuninghame (1731-1799) who had made a personal fortune in the Virginia tobacco trade. The mansion was placed strategically on the axis of Ingram Street, regarded as the fashionable focal point of Glasgow's "New Town". Recalling his childhood, the journalist Robert Reid (1773-1865) wrote of the keen public interest generated by the building operations, not least because they cost Cuninghame the enormous sum of £10,000.
Cuninghame did not remain for long in his splendid residence. In 1789 he sold it to the Stirling family and retired to his country estate of Lainshaw, in Ayrshire. The Stirlings were calico printers and used part of the property as a warehouse. Then, in 1817, it came to be wholly used for business purposes as a branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland. Ten years later a major project commenced to convert the mansion into the Royal Exchange, an information centre and meeting place for businessmen. Architect David Hamilton (1768-1843) added imposing Corinthian columns to the front and an extensive newsroom at the back. After the Royal Exchange left the building in the 1940s it was used as the Stirling's Library. In 1996 it was transformed into the Gallery of Modern Art.
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