All of Edinburgh's publicly owned museums and galleries offer free entry to their permanent collections, and National Galleries Scotland manage five buildings which provide access to a fantastic array of artworks.
At the west end of the city centre are the two modern art galleries, and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery on Queen Street blends classical and contemporary works. In the very heart of Edinburgh, on the Mound, which connects both Old and New Town, is the original Scottish National Gallery itself, alongside its sister gallery, the Royal Scottish Academy building.
These two spaces are connected by an underground concourse, accessible from Princes Street, and while the RSA hosts regular paid exhibitions, the National Gallery provides free access to some of the best-known classic works by globally renowned artists.
The RSA building was the first of these two galleries to be built, designed by William Henry Playfair in the 1820s. The National Gallery building was commissioned thirty years later, again designed by Playfair, and very distinctly in his classical style, with Grecian-style columns and decorations all around the golden sandstone structure - the RSA is Doric in style (the least decorative) while the National Gallery is Ionic (more ornate). Together these two buildings helped earn Edinburgh its nickname of 'the Athens of the North'.
The foundation stone for the Scottish National Gallery building was laid by Queen Victoria's consort Prince Albert in 1850 and the gallery opened to the public in 1859.
Inside the building is a sumptuous series of open spaces with works by some of the world's greatest classic artists on display, alongside iconic works by Scottish painters.
Organised by theme and period the collection fills the space with colour and style, with every wall offering something to discover.
Artists like Rembrandt and Van Dyck are represented alongside Monet, Reubens and Titian, as well as British painters like Constable and Turner (whose watercolours are displayed in a special exhibition every January) and Scottish artists like Alexander Nasmyth and Henry Raeburn.
One iconic picture which is often considered a definitively Scottish work is Edwin Landseer's Monarch of the Glen, featuring a majestic stag in front of a Scottish Highland backdrop. The painting was bought by National Galleries Scotland for £4m in 2017 - but Landseer was an English painter, and for some the uniquity of this work has resulted in it becoming a cliched and overly sentimental presentation of Scotland.
The largest painting in the gallery's collection - measuring approximately 5.7m by 4.2m, including its grand gilt frame - is by an American artist named Benjamin West, who was born in Philadelphia and later travelled to Britain as part of his 'Grand Tour' of Europe.
His painting Alexander III of Scotland Rescued from the Fury of a Stag was recently restored in the gallery in full view of the general public, who could watch the conservators painstakingly working on the enormous picture.
Beneath the gallery space, in the modern connecting section which opened in 2004, you can find the Scottish Cafe and Restaurant, a dining space which offers coffee, snacks and light meals with an option for sitting outdoors and enjoying the views across the eastern section of Princes Street Gardens towards the Balmoral hotel.
Ongoing renovation work is extending the gallery's subterranean spaces to offer more gallery rooms, along with the necessary administrative office spaces. This will make the main entrance into the gallery at the garden level.
So be sure to pop into the Scottish National Gallery during your visit to Edinburgh and discover some of the artistic treasures it holds.
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