Gallery overhaul will boost space for Scottish art

A multi-million-pound overhaul of one of the nation’s flagship public galleries has been ordered to ensure “the crown jewels of Scottish visual art” are finally given proper recognition.

Little-seen paintings will go on show at the National Gallery
Little-seen paintings will go on show at the National Gallery

The National Galleries of Scotland has unveiled plans to transform its landmark building on the Mound in Edinburgh with a radical makeover aimed at doubling the space devoted to Scotland’s artistic treasures.

Extra gallery areas and a new entrance hall overlooking Princes Street Gardens are being planned to lift the Scottish collection out of its “second-division” home in a basement currently neglected by most visitors.

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Existing storage areas, office space, print rooms and a library are to become home to gallery spaces that will showcase the most comprehensive collection of Scottish paintings in the world, as well as boast spectacular views of the city’s landscape.

The revamp, which the Scottish Government and Heritage Lottery Fund will be asked to support, is also aimed at allowing visitors to move more easily around the building, which was designed by Edinburgh’s famous architect William Henry Playfair and dates back to 1859.

The current home for the Scottish collection, which has remained largely unaltered since it was created beneath the existing National Gallery building in 1978, is described as “gloomy and out of date” by bosses.

The shake-up is aimed at ensuring that little-seen paintings by the likes of Allan Ramsay, Sir Henry Raeburn, Alexander Nasmyth, Gavin Hamilton, Sir David Wilkie and William McTaggart are displayed in prominent, well-lit galleries, while creating greater access to the gardens.

Gareth Hoskins, the award-winning architect behind the transformation of the National Museum of Scotland, is masterminding the makeover, which is expected to cost between 
£10 million and £15m.

Mr Hoskins said: “We are incredibly excited at the opportunity of working with the National Galleries of Scotland to create new spaces for their fantastic collection of Scottish art.”

Sir John Leighton, director-general of the National Galleries of Scotland, told The Scotsman: “The whole aim of this project is to ensure these paintings, the jewels in the crown of the Scottish art world, are prominently and proudly displayed in galleries of world standing, as well as improving access to them.

“We are going to rethink the whole space underneath the existing main gallery, but also look at the whole building in terms of how things are displayed and how people circulate around it.”

Duncan Macmillan, art critic for The Scotsman, said: “Generally speaking, these proposals are to be warmly welcomed. Anything would be an improvement on the present dismal set-up.”