There's a matryoshka doll quality to some of Edinburgh's historic buildings, with spaces to be discovered within other spaces, and history found within other historical features. Old College of the University of Edinburgh is one such building, being worth visiting by itself (and featuring on a number of my Edinburgh walking tours) but also boasting one of the city's great art galleries within its walls.
The Talbot Rice Gallery, named for the university's professor of fine art between 1934 and 1972, occupies the upper levels of the quad building, designed originally by Robert Adam and William Henry Playfair. It's a free entry gallery hosting contemporary exhibitions of paintings and sculpture, and offering a glimpse of the interior style of Old College itself.
Located in what was previously an exhibition hall within Old College, the Talbot Rice Gallery opened in 1975. It offers a classical space under a vaulted ceiling supported by Playfair's Grecian ionic columns, as well as a 'white box' contemporary-feeling exhibition space, and feels a million miles from the busy city streets just a few metres away outside.
Both spaces have a lower and upper viewing area, creating a tremendous sense of space and light, with skylights allowing natural light to flood the spaces as needed.
Accessing the upper levels of the classical space also allows visitors to appreciate the style and decoration of the space, with ornate plasterwork on the arches and architraves and cast iron balustrades in typical 19th-century designs.
William Playfair's Greek-influenced interior spaces contrast with the order and symmetry of the classical exterior of the building, which was Robert Adam's vision when he designed the original structure at the end of the 18th century. Taken together the inside and outside offer visions of two contrasting architectural styles, not just from different designers but from different centuries - and visiting the Talbot Rice Gallery is one way of visitors being able to appreciate those contrasts and differences.
The gallery is open to the public year round, although dates of exhibitions may mean it is closed for installation on occasion, so do check their website for details before planning a visit. Special events and public lectures from visiting artists and critics bring an added dimension to the gallery's stated goal of "exploring how the University of Edinburgh can contribute to contemporary art production today and into the future".
Discover more of Edinburgh's art galleries and museums, as well as some of its hidden historic spaces, on my private walking tours.
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