The exhibition examines the stories of key Scottish figures of the 19th century.

This two-year display was inspired by a theory set out by the Victorian philosopher, historian, essayist and teacher Thomas Carlyle in his book On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History in 1841. In it, he asserted the importance of individuals in shaping history.

In the more than 175 years since Carlyle was writing, his ‘Great Man’ approach has been challenged and largely abandoned. But that's not to say the idea of heroes and role models aren't still important to our understanding of our nation's past.

This exhibition celebrates some of the major Scottish figures of the Victorian age, from soldiers, scientists and inventors to artists, writers and suffragists – all of whom helped to shape the modern world.

Included are pictures of the self-taught Scottish geologist, folklorist and evangelical Christian, Hugh Miller, and the domestic realist writer Margaret Oliphant, as well as Scottish-American industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who led the expansion of the US steel industry in the late 19th century and is frequently identified as one of the richest people ever.

The display raises questions about the nature of hero-worship and why it was embraced so fully by Victorian society.

Don't miss

Portraits of Queen Victoria herself also feature, providing an opportunity to consider the full force of her influence over this period.

Scottish National Portrait Gallery

1 Queen Street, Edinburgh, Midlothian, EH2 1JD

0131 624 6200


Opening times

Daily, 10am – 5pm. (6pm during August). Open from noon on 1 Jan. Closed 25 – 26 Dec.

Free to all

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