Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Queen Street
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Queen Street

Located in a fine red sandstone edifice towards the east end of Edinburgh's Queen Street, close to St Andrew Square, is the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, now part of the National Galleries of Scotland. The gallery houses a large collection of portraits of famous Scots, together with the national collection of photography. The portraits chart the history of Scotland from the 16th Century until the present day, through both the politicians and nobility who ran the country, but also leading figures in the arts, sciences and literature, together with popular figures and the lesser known. Notable amongst the collection are portraits of Robert Burns (1759-96), Sir Sean Connery (b.1930), David Hume (1711-76), Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87), Sir Walter Scott (1771 - 1832), Prince Charles Edward Stuart (1720-88) and Irvine Welsh (b.1958), by artists such as Alexander Nasmyth (1758 - 1840), Sir Henry Raeburn (1756 - 1823) and Allan Ramsay (1713-84). The photography includes important works by Robert Adamson (1821-48) and David O. Hill (1802-70). There are also notable collections of busts, miniatures and death masks including one of Dolly the Sheep.

The building mixes Italian and Gothic styles and was constructed between 1885 and 1890 by Sir Robert Rowand Anderson (1834 - 1921) as the National Museum of Antiquities. There are great similarities between this building and Mount Stuart, completed by Anderson for John Crichton-Stuart, the 3rd Marquess of Bute, in 1880. It is constructed using red sandstone brought from Corsehill and Moat quarries in Dumfriesshire and the facade includes statues of famous Scots, by sculptors such as Pittendrigh MacGillivray (1856 - 1938) and W. Birnie Rhind (1853 - 1933). Inside is a remarkable Neo-Gothic Great Hall with stained glass windows, a wide gallery featuring a remarkably colourful processional frieze painted by William Hole (1846 - 1910) and an astrological ceiling.

The building and museum were a gift to the nation from John Ritchie Findlay (1824-98), who owned the Scotsman newspaper at the time and gave £50,000 for its construction. The National Museum of Antiquities was part of the Royal Museum of Scotland and shared the building with the Portrait Gallery until its collection was relocated to the new Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street in 1999. The library of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland remains on the second floor.

The gallery underwent a £17.6 million refurbishment between 2009 and 2011 which created 60% more space by opening areas of the building which were previously inaccessible to the public.

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