Royal Scottish Academy

Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh

A grand Neo-Classical temple on the south side of Edinburgh's Princes Street, at the foot of the Mound, which was designed by W.H. Playfair (1789 - 1857). It is often confused with the National Gallery of Scotland, which is a similar building lying behind. However, the Academy is in the Doric style and was completed in 1826, some 28 years before the Ionic-styled National Gallery. The building was commissioned by the Board of Manufactures, an arm of government which at the time was responsible for public works. Founded as the Scottish Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in 1826, it received a Royal Charter to become the Royal Scottish Academy in 1838.

Playfair was asked to enlarge his building by a third, which he did between 1831-6, and this greatly improved its composition. It is highly decorated by carved stonework and classical friezes. On its roof are eight grand sphinxes looking down on passers-by and on the front, facing up Hanover Street, a statue of Queen Victoria in the form of Britannia, executed by Sir John Steell (1804-91).

The teaching functions of the Academy transferred to the Edinburgh College of Art in 1910. Today, the Royal Scottish Academy promotes living Scottish artists and is noted for its art exhibitions; comprising both its own annual exhibition, student exhibition and various touring shows. The Academy encourages innovation in art and architecture in Scotland through awards. The building opened originally as the Royal Institution and also housed the Society of Antiquaries until 1890, when they moved to what is now the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the Royal Society of Edinburgh which moved to George Street in 1909 when the Government decided the building should become part of the National Gallery of Scotland. The following year the building was remodelled by the English architect William Oldrieve (1853 - 1922) to make it more suitable as an art gallery.

The grand entrance, lying on Princes Street, has often been used in the past for Edinburgh's civic ceremonies. Another major refurbishment of the building began in 2001, with the £30 million Playfair Project providing a link to the National Gallery of Scotland and new galleries underground.

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