National Artistic Treasures in Edinburgh

The Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

Every great capital city needs a great art gallery and so it makes sense that Edinburgh, which is a great city, has a great art gallery.  There is a formidable mix of Scottish and international paintings and sculptures, in a nicely ‘old-fashioned’ setting, and the quality and range of what’s on display can probably only be appreciated in more than one visit.

Because I have no ability to guess how long museum visits are going to take me anymore (I seem to dawdle a lot more than when I was younger), I severely underestimated the time we needed for the Scottish National Gallery and therefore had to scurry through the last few rooms before we got chucked out by the guards.

The facade of Scottish National Gallery, designed by William Henry Playfair, Edinburgh, Scotland (on a rainy day)

The facade of Scottish National Gallery, designed by William Henry Playfair, Edinburgh, Scotland (on a rainy day)

The Scottish National Gallery was, until the 2012 rebranding, called the National Gallery of Scotland (which, personally, strikes me as being a much better name that they will probably return to one day when they feel the need to rebrand themselves again) and is run by the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS), who also run the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.  The NGS has a board of Trustees made up of members selected by the Scottish government.  Interesting.

The grandly named Royal Institution for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts in Scotland was founded in 1819 with the intention of acquiring paintings and in 1828 it opened a gallery on The Mound.  An off-shoot of this organisation, the Scottish Academy (later the Royal Scottish Academy – the RSA) was founded by a group of artists in 1826, who wanted to create a national collection and they too acquired works which they put on display in a rented exhibition space in the Royal Institution building from 1835.

In the 1840s, new plans were set out to house the RSA’s collection: the Scottish architect, William Henry Playfair, designed a neat neo-classical building and in 1850, Prince Albert laid the foundation stone for the new gallery.  It opened to the public in 1859.  Though the gallery and the RSA originally had two separate buildings facing each other, since 2004 the two have been joined by an underground passage.  Due to being kicked out at closing time, I didn’t get to see that.  This is therefore an overview of the old National Gallery of Scotland building.

Upper Level

A very small but fine collection of early Renaissance and Flemish art is upstairs – be sure not to miss it.

IMG_5450

The Virgin and Child Enthroned, c1415, Lorenzo Monaco and workshop, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.  “Mummy, mummy, look!  Some strange people are staring at us!”

Virgin and Child, Unknown Flemish Master, 1490s, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.  The baby Jesus is showing the typical toddler's disregard for the pages of a book.

Virgin and Child, Unknown Flemish Master, 1490s, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.  The baby Jesus is showing the typical toddler’s disregard for the pages of a book.

Three Legends of Saint Nicholas, 1500-1520, Gerard David, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.   St Nicholas first appears here as a newly born baby miraculously standing in prayer. In the centre panel, he's peering through the window of an impoverished widower, whose three sleeping daughters are saved from prostitution by St Nicholas' gift of three gold coins as a dowry.  Finally, he is shown, as a bishop, reviving three murdered boys.  These three panels formed part of a predella of a larger altarpiece (the other panels are now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington and the Toledo Museum, Ohio).

Three Legends of Saint Nicholas, 1500-1520, Gerard David, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.   St Nicholas first appears here as a newly born baby miraculously standing in prayer. In the centre panel, he’s peering through the window of an impoverished widower, whose three sleeping daughters are saved from prostitution by St Nicholas’ gift of three gold coins as a dowry.  Finally, he is shown as a bishop reviving three murdered boys.  These three panels formed part of a predella of a larger altarpiece (the other panels are now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington and the Toledo Museum, Ohio).

IMG_5469

Detail of Three Legends of Saint Nicholas, 1500-1520, Gerard David, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.  It shows a precious and hyper-serious baby St Nicholas standing in prayer right after birth in a lovely brass tray.  I also love the tiled floor.

A Jeering Crowd: fragment of a Mocking of Christ, c1435-1494, Hans Memling, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

A Jeering Crowd: fragment of a Mocking of Christ, c1435-1494, Hans Memling, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

I’d like to draw your attention to rather unusual Holbein the Younger.  It’s basically a painted sermon, with little inscriptions (like a comic’s speech bubbles) explaining what’s being said/going on.  It is a product of the Reformation, with the themes of the Old and New Testaments being used to promote the triumph of the new ideology of Protestantism, showing the Old Testament as a time of sin and punishment, and the New Testament as a new era of mercy and salvation.   On the left is Adam and Eve, and Moses – and death.  Notice the skeleton with the helpfully inscribed ‘Mors’.  On the right is Jesus bringing salvation.  There he is, standing on another skeleton, and squashing its little goblin-gremlin friend, bringing the promise of life after death.

An Allegory of the Old and New Testaments, early 1530s, Hans Holbein the Younger, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

An Allegory of the Old and New Testaments, early 1530s, Hans Holbein the Younger, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

Detail of An Allegory of the Old and New Testaments, early 1530s, Hans Holbein the Younger, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.  Not only does the little creature look like a Balinese gremlin, but I love the cartoonish way he's being squashed under the skeleton and Jesus, with his little claw clutching at the ground.

Detail of An Allegory of the Old and New Testaments, early 1530s, Hans Holbein the Younger, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.  Not only does the little creature look like a Balinese gremlin, but I love the cartoonish way he’s being squashed under the skeleton and Jesus, with his little claw clutching at the ground.

Lower Level

This is the main gallery, where the stars of the collection are.  They are displayed in a more ‘old-fashioned’, layered/cluttered manner, so some paintings are harder to see than others.  However, this is obviously the way they have to do the display in order to have more pictures on show, and personally, it doesn’t bother me too much – unless the one I really want to see is the one hanging 10 feet above the ground.

The grand and the grandiose, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

The grand and the grandiose, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

Anyway, there are some fantastic paintings in the gallery – an interesting mixture of famous and not-so famous pictures by a wide range of Scottish and European painters.  These were some of the highlights for me:

Detail of The Three Ages of Man, c1512-15, Titian, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

Detail of The Three Ages of Man, c1512-15, Titian, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

Self-Portrait, aged 51, c1657, Rembrandt, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.  By the time he painted this work, in either 1657 or 1659, Rembrandt had endured great personal and financial difficulties.  It's not just the bags under his eyes and the deep furrows in the forehead that show his troubles, but the sombre, serious expression, the tiredness in his eyes.  It's a very moving piece.

Self-Portrait, aged 51, c1657, Rembrandt, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.  By the time he painted this work, in either 1657 or 1659, Rembrandt had endured great personal and financial difficulties.  It’s not just the bags under his eyes and the deep furrows in the forehead that show his troubles, but the sombre, serious expression, the tiredness in his eyes.  It’s a very moving piece.

Christ Blessing ('The Saviour of the World'), 1600, El Greco, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

Christ Blessing (‘The Saviour of the World’), 1600, El Greco, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

Detail of An Old Woman Cooking Eggs, 1618, Diego Velázquez, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.  I found her cooking utensils fascinating.

Detail of An Old Woman Cooking Eggs, 1618, Diego Velázquez, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.  I found her cooking utensils fascinating.

The Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary with Saint Joachim and Saint Anne, 1638-40, Francisco de Zurbaran, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.  This was a popular subject in Seville, but it was unusual to include her parents.  I liked the way they look more historically accurate than usual.

The Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary with Saint Joachim and Saint Anne, 1638-40, Francisco de Zurbaran, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.  This was a popular subject in Seville, but it was unusual to include her parents.  I liked the way they look more historically accurate than usual.

A Young Man with a Basket of Fruit, c1660/65, Bartolome Esteban Murillo, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

A Young Man with a Basket of Fruit, c1660/65, Bartolome Esteban Murillo, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

Detail of Landscape with Christ and St Peter, c1630/38, Goffredo Wals, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

Detail of Landscape with Christ and St Peter, c1630/38, Goffredo Wals, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

Winter Landscape, 1610/20, Hendrick Avercamp, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

Winter Landscape, 1610/20, Hendrick Avercamp, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

Detail of a A View of Cologne, c1660/65, Jan van der Heyden, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

Detail of a A View of Cologne, c1660/65, Jan van der Heyden, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

A Village Wedding, c1655/60, Jan Steen, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

A Village Wedding, c1655/60, Jan Steen, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

Mother and son from a set of four portraits, 1662/3, Jan de Bray, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.  The parents were 47 years old, and their sons 11 and 12. Their contemporary carved frames are relatively rare.

Mother and son from a set of four portraits, 1662/3, Jan de Bray, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.  The parents were 47 years old, and their sons 11 and 12. Their contemporary carved frames are relatively rare.

Father and son from a set of four portraits, 1662/3, Jan de Bray, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.  The parents were 47 years old, and their sons 11 and 12. Their contemporary carved frames are relatively rare.

Father and son from a set of four portraits, 1662/3, Jan de Bray, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.  The parents were 47 years old, and their sons 11 and 12. Their contemporary carved frames are relatively rare.

A School for Boys and Girls, c1670, Jan Steen, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland. It shows the evils of inattentiveness in a school without disciple.  I think it looks like a great learning environment.

A School for Boys and Girls, c1670, Jan Steen, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland. It shows the evils of inattentiveness in a school without disciple.  I think it looks like a great learning environment.

Detail of A School for Boys and Girls, c1670, Jan Steen, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.  I adore the expression on the teacher's face - and the poor eye-straining boy writing with his head on his hand.

Detail of A School for Boys and Girls, c1670, Jan Steen, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.  I adore the expression on the teacher’s face – and the poor eye-straining boy writing with his head on his hand.

Detail of A Singing Practice, 1654, Gerard ter Borch, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

Detail of A Singing Practice, 1654, Gerard ter Borch, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

A Dutch Family, 1655, Nicolaes Maes, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.  The child is a boy, dressed in skirts and holding the typical male toy of a hobby horse.  Boys would usually start wearing breeches at the age of 5/6. 

A Dutch Family, 1655, Nicolaes Maes, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.  The child is a boy, dressed in skirts and holding the typical male toy of a hobby horse.  Boys would usually start wearing breeches at the age of 5/6.

Detail of The Disputed Reckoning, 1658, Pieter De Hooch, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

Detail of The Disputed Reckoning, 1658, Pieter De Hooch, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

Portrait of a Young Man, c1631, Jan Lievens, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

Portrait of a Young Man, c1631, Jan Lievens, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch, 1795, Henry Raeburn, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.  The skater is thought to be the minister of the Canongate Kirk and a member of the Edinburgh Skating Society, which usually met on the frozen lochs of Duddingston or Lochend on the outskirts of Edinburgh.

Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch, 1795, Henry Raeburn, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.  The skater is thought to be the minister of the Canongate Kirk and a member of the Edinburgh Skating Society, which usually met on the frozen lochs of Duddingston or Lochend on the outskirts of Edinburgh.

Patrick Moir, c1784/6, Henry Raeburn, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.  Moir was the nephew of the influential Rome-based Scottish antiquary, dealer and cicerone, James Byres. After joining his Uncle, Patrick became a celebrity in his own right, known as the "English Banker in Rome" and a supplier of funds to Cardinal York, brother of Prince Charles Edward Stewart.  This painting is the only known surviving portrait from Raeburn's one visit to Italy.

Patrick Moir, c1784/6, Henry Raeburn, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.  Moir was the nephew of the influential Rome-based Scottish antiquary, dealer and cicerone, James Byres. After joining his Uncle, Patrick became a celebrity in his own right, known as the “English Banker in Rome” and a supplier of funds to Cardinal York, brother of Prince Charles Edward Stewart.  This painting is the only known surviving portrait from Raeburn’s one visit to Italy.

Princes Street with the commencement of the building of the Royal Institution, 1825, Alexander Nasmyth, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

Princes Street with the commencement of the building of the Royal Institution, 1825, Alexander Nasmyth, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

The Honourable Mrs Graham, 1777, Thomas Gainsborough, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.  The portrait was highly acclaimed when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy, but upon the sitter's death in 1792, her husband Thomas Graham, passed the painting to her sister.  It was subsequently bequeathed to the National Gallery by one of their descendants on condition that it never leaves Scotland.

The Honourable Mrs Graham, 1777, Thomas Gainsborough, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.  The portrait was highly acclaimed when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy, but upon the sitter’s death in 1792, her husband Thomas Graham, passed the painting to her sister.  It was subsequently bequeathed to the National Gallery by one of their descendants on condition that it never leaves Scotland.

Detail of The Honourable Mrs Graham, 1777, Thomas Gainsborough, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

Detail of The Honourable Mrs Graham, 1777, Thomas Gainsborough, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

The Young Ascanius, 1822, Thomas Campbell, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.   The statue is of the eight year old Arthur Fitzgerald Kinnaird, commissioned at the suggestion of Lord Byron, a friend of the Kinnairds, and commemorates Arthur's appearance at a costume ball in Rome.

The Young Ascanius, 1822, Thomas Campbell, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.   The statue is of the eight year old Arthur Fitzgerald Kinnaird, commissioned at the suggestion of Lord Byron, a friend of the Kinnairds, and commemorates Arthur’s appearance at a costume ball in Rome.

Detail of The Young Ascanius, 1822, Thomas Campbell, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

Detail of The Young Ascanius, 1822, Thomas Campbell, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

So In Summary

Almost all of the great masters of painting are represented in the Scottish National Gallery – quite a feat, considering how small the museum actually is.  You really do get to go on an artistic journey with examples from all the major European schools up to the 20th century.  If you like paintings, a visit to the gallery is a no-brainer.  Go and enjoy!

Further Information

The museum is free to visit, though exhibitions are charged.

If you want further information about opening hours, then please visit their website – it’s not exciting but it does the job:  www.nationalgalleries.org

How To Get There

The Scottish National Gallery is centrally located but information about the public transport can be found here: www.lothianbuses.com

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

No Comments

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: