The Galleries were built in 1855-6 to a design by architect James Smith at a cost of £40,000  and are named after their founder, Archibald McLellan (1795–1854), a coach builder, councillor and patron of the arts. Following his death, Glasgow Corporation acquired the galleries and collection, and for a time they were known as the Corporation Halls before reverting to their former owner's name. The Galleries housed Glasgow School of Art from 1869 to 1899.
In October 1986, the shop frontage building housing the Galleries was ravaged by fire, but they re-opened in 1990 as the largest quality, climate-controlled, temporary exhibition gallery in Scotland.
While Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum was closed for refurbishment between 2003 and 2006, the McLellan Galleries hosted a display of its best-loved works.
Since 2012 there has been public discussion involving user organisations such as the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts with a view to re-establishing the McLellan Galleries as a major feature in Glasgow’s cultural life.
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- "Our History". Glasgow School of Art. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
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- Currie, Karin Spalter (10 May 2013). "Reopening the McLellan Galleries Will Restore Access to Our Cultural Heritage". Glasgow Herald – via HighBeam Research (subscription required). Archived from the original on 21 September 2014. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
- Miller, Phil (26 March 2014). "Council Plans Fresh Lease of Life for McLellan Galleries". Glasgow Herald – via HighBeam Research (subscription required). Archived from the original on 21 September 2014. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
- Historic Environment Scotland. "254-290 (Even Nos) Sauchiehall Street, 5, 7 Rose Street, 2, 6 Dalhousie Street and 145, 147, 149 Renfrew Street, McLellan Galleries (Category B) (LB33192)". Retrieved 28 March 2019.