Queen’s Gallery director wants more Scottish visitors

The gallery has attracted almost a million visitors. Photograph: Ian Rutherford
The gallery has attracted almost a million visitors. Photograph: Ian Rutherford
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The director of the Royal art collection has urged more Scots to visit the Queen’s Gallery at Holyrood Palace.

Jonathan Marsden said the gallery is poised to break the one million visitor mark this year but his “one regret” is the low proportion of Scottish visitors.

At the opening of the summer show of rare photographs of the Crimean War, Marsden explained that the Royal Collection is expanding its exhibitions with a range of shows in cities across the UK and even overseas.

The Queen’s Gallery at the Palace of Holyroodhouse opened in 2002 as a mainstay of Royal exhibitions and has drawn 965,585 people to shows ranging from Leonardo da Vinci drawings to extraordinary treasures made in gold.

But fewer than one in five of the visitors to its latest exhibition were Scottish, and in previous years the figures were even lower, at 15 per cent.

The total visitors number was “tantalisingly close” to one million, said Marsden, an art historian and director of the Royal Collection since 2009.

“But if I have just one regret, it is that of those people we still don’t welcome nearly enough people from Scotland. We are really on this, we want to do more.”

The gallery is pushing an events programme, and outreach to the young, as part of an effort to “reconnect the palace to the city”.

The Queen’s Gallery is a relatively small but prestigious player in the Scottish capital’s art offering. The current exhibition, Shadows of War: Roger Fenton’s Photographs of the Crimea, is part of the Edinburgh Art Festival.

The audio guide includes Prince Harry reflecting about the psychological impact of war, with one of Fenton’s photographs of Lord Balgonie described as the first visual record of a sufferer from “shell shock”.

The National Galleries of Scotland began publishing figures for Scottish visitors for the first time this year in a bid to “better understand its audience and boost numbers across the board” a spokesman said.

In the year to 31 March 2017 there were 2,437,632 visitors across its three galleries in Edinburgh. Just 22 percent at the Scottish National Gallery on the Mound, 345,349 out of 1,569,776, were Scottish.

The figure was much higher at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, traditionally an Edinburgh favourite, where 44 percent, or 146,560 of 333,091, were from Scotland. At the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, 52 percent or 278,078 of 534,765 were Scottish.

Forty per cent of visitors at the National Museum of Scotland were Scottish while at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, 44 percent are from the Edinburgh and Lothians alone, and about 10 per cent elsewhere in Scotland.

The numbers for the museum, galleries and gardens reflect a huge number of free and repeat visitors, whereas the Queen’s Gallery is entirely ticketed.