The National Galleries of Scotland oversees and operates five separate gallery spaces in Edinburgh's New Town - the National Gallery and Royal Scottish Academy buildings on the Mound, two modern art galleries to the west of the city centre, and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery on Queen Street.
This impressive building houses a fascinating collection of images and sculptures of people who have shaped Scotland across its history, from ancient history to modern figures of politics and science, offering an unusual perspective on Scottish history and culture.
The gallery building itself was constructed as the world's first purpose-built portrait gallery space, and was funded by a local businessman and philanthropist named John Ritchie Findlay. Findlay had joined the Scotsman newspaper in 1842 as a junior clerk, and by the 1870s had worked his way up to become its owner.
In the 1880s Findlay donated £70,000 to establish a building to house the collection of portraits which were held by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland - the property was designed by Robert Rowand Anderson, who had also designed the McEwan Hall for the University of Edinburgh and would later be knighted for his work on Queen Victoria's Highland residence at Balmoral.
The building is constructed from red sandstone, sourced from Dumfriesshire on Scotland's west coast, in contrast to the buttery yellow of Edinburgh's local stone, and opened to the public in 1889, at which time it was split into two collections - the portraits, and the collection of antiquities which later separated out to become the National Museum of Scotland.
The outside of the building features statues of significant Scottish figures - look for William Wallace and Robert the Bruce guarding the main entrance - but it is the inside which truly celebrates the men and women who shaped the nation. In the centre of the entrance hall is a gallery frieze designed by William Brassey Hole, featuring a procession of Scots from antiquity onwards.
Within the gallery you'll find iconic portraits of people like Mary, Queen of Scots and Robert Burns, in gallery spaces which are themed to particular periods or styles of work.
It isn't all paintings, either - there are sculptures (both classical and contemporary), photography, stained glass portraits, self-portraits, plaster masks cast after death, and everything from tiny cameo likenesses to huge canvas tryptichs...
And as well as plenty of older paintings from people like Henry Raeburn and Alexander Nasmyth, you'll discover plenty of up-to-date and current works from contemporary artists celebrating modern figures whose influence on Scotland has been significant. Look for paintings of Billy Connolly and Tilda Swinton among politicians, writers, sporting figures and musicians...
As with all the publicly owned galleries and museums, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery is free entry for the bulk of its permanent collection, with special exhibitions often available for a modest entry fee. They also have a spacious cafe for coffee, snacks and light meals, and a shop for postcards, prints and other art-themed souvenirs of your visit.
So why not pop in to come face to face with Scottish history, and discover a fraction of the collection of paintings, sculptures and photographs documenting those from Scotland's past, present and future.
Discover more about the lives of significant figures from Scottish history on my private city walking tours!
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