National Gallery of Scotland - Galleries

Many of the major art collections of Scotland are stored in these buildings. The National Galleries in Scotland are a group of 5 Edinburgh-based galleries and two outstations. It is one of our most recommended stops on a visit to Edinburgh. The group is composed of National Gallery of Scotland, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, the Dean Gallery and the Playfair Project. The two outstations are the Paxton house and Duff house.

A splendid view if the buildings from Edinburgh Castle

Design and Archictural History

A leading Scottish architect, William Playfair, was asked to design the initial building to house the national art in Scotland. This would be the Royal Scottish Academy Building, opening in 1826. Only 6 years after this, William Playfair was asked to extend and modify the Royal Scottish Academy.

The interior was remodelled to increase the space. Later in 1910, more modifications were made. However, the biggest changes occurred only recently in 2003. Modern temperature and light controls were added then. The space was also being divided into 11 galleries. Lastly, a plan has been developed to link the building to its small neighbour, the National Gallery.

Picture of the National Gallery of Scotland from the side. Taken from Princes street.

More work for William Playfair

In 1850, William Playfair was again asked to design a new gallery beside the Royal Scottish Academy. Its purpose was to accommodate both the National Gallery of Scotland and the Royal Scottish Academy. He finished it in 1853 and it would start displaying Scotland's national collection of art as of 1859. It has now been given entirely to the National Collection. It replaced the Royal Scottish Academy in that regard.


Stylistically, it can be characterized as Classical. It subordinates content to form and conceived simply and symmetrically. The building incorperates some Doric style. This is the oldest and simplest of the Greek architectures. Characterized as "rounded".

Content of the collection

Content seems to match the style. You can find Titian, Rembrandt, Reynolds, Turner and Chardin among French impressionists. Class exibits include Poussin's The Seven Sacraments (1647), Canova's The Three Graces and Vannucci's The School of Apollo.

The National Gallery has some marvellous items on loan from private owners. These include Titian's Venus Rising from the Sea, Rembrandt's Woman in Bed and Van der Goess's Trinity Altarpiece. The last of these coming from Queen Elizbeth II.

A look at the Galleries building from the other end

One can also visit the Scottish Portrait Gallery containing portraits only of Scots, varying from rebels, royals, poets and philosophers. Designed by Sir Robert Anderson, it was built in the 1880s thanks to a private donation. Superb examples are the portraits of Mary, Queen of Scots, David Hume and Robert Burns. Interestingly, the gallery pursues an active policy of obtaining and commissioning portraits of famous living Scots, such as Sean Connery. The Scottish National Photography Collection that was established in 1984 can also be found here. A great push was made here thanks to the internationally renowned work or Robert Adamson. There are approximately over 27000 photographs at present based mostly on work by Scottish artists.

The final two pieces, Dean and National Gallery of Modern Art, are very recent additions to the National Galleries. In 1994, the sculptor, Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, gave the Dean a large part of his work. As well as displaying pieces of Dadaist and Surrealist art, the Dean holds part of the permanent collection of modern art, the rest of which is in the Gallery of Modern Art next door, and based on the acquisitions of the collections of Sir Roland Penrose and Mrs. Gabrielle Keiller.

One more picture giving more detail from the castle

The Playfair Project is an underground link opening in 2004. In all five of these buildings, there are constant special exhibitions and new acquisitions. One is never disappointed and can return again and again.

Click here for more information of the National Galleries of Scotland

Welcome to the capital city of Scotland.