Scottish National Portrait Gallery
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Exploring Scotland past and present through masterpieces of portraiture.
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; 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.
There's also 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.
Art Funded works
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.
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 interactive games.