Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Come face to face with Scotland past and present at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

The collections are housed  in a spectacular restored Neo-Gothic palace which has a fabulous gilded frieze of Scotland's history running round the entrance hall.

Following a three-year refurbishment, which ended in December 2011, the Gallery was nominated for the Art Fund Prize 2012.  While the building was being transformed the curators thought long and hard about how to adapt the Victorian idea of a portrait gallery of worthies to the 21st century. The emphasis is now on how the portraits tell the story of the people of Scotland, providing windows into their lives and the way they have shaped the nation's history and culture.

Rotating displays in the 17 galleries follow a broadly chronological narrative, beginning with the Reformation and Mary Queen of Scots, and continuing through to the present day. The idea of portraiture is interpreted very broadly. Alongside canvases by the great masters of Scottish portrait painting – Ramsay and Raeburn – and of illustrious Scots – Walter Scott, Robert Burns, Bonnie Prince Charlie – there are are some surprises. You'll find contemporary landscapes and videos, historic photographs of unidentified sitters, sporty Scots playing golf and croquet, prints of Glasgow's slums, miniatures, life and death masks, and a plaster cast of the head of Dolly the cloned sheep.

Don't miss a glorious display of tartan – a parade of five portraits of men in plaids and kilts, including Major James Fraser in colourfully clashing tartan trews, coat and mantle.

A touching 1637 oil sketch of two royal princesses – Elizabeth and Anne – which Van Dyck made for a group portrait of five children of Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria. It becomes all the more poignant when you realise that the little girls did not survive infancy. The picture was ArtFunded in 1996.

Visitor information

The imposing red sandstone building sits on Queen Street, a ten-minute stroll from the National Gallery of Scotland. There's a well-stocked shop and a café, and a new glass lift linking the three floors. Touchscreens around the gallery provide information on the collection and a chance to have some fun as you assemble different elements into your own composite portrait.

Art we've helped buy at Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Venue details

Scottish National Portrait Gallery 1 Queen Street Edinburgh EH2 1JD 0131 624 6200

Entry details

Free entry to all
50% off exhibitions with National Art Pass

Mon – Wed and Fri – Sun, 10am – 5pm
Thu, 10am – 7pm
Closed 25 – 26 Dec