National Museum of Scotland set for overhaul

Work is set to begin within months on a multi-million-pound overhaul of one of Scotland’s busiest visitor attractions – just three years after a previous revamp.

Revamps of the National Museum of Scotland have seen visitor numbers soar. Picture: Neil Hanna

More than £15 million worth of improvements to the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh are planned over the next few years, which will create at least 12 new galleries.

The exhibition spaces will be spread over three areas of the museum and will showcase international art and design over the centuries, science and technology exhibits, and treasures from Egypt and the Far East.

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The work, expected to be funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and Scottish Government, will be carried out in two main phases, with all 12 expected to be unveiled by 2019.

The new galleries will be home to around 4,000 exhibits, most of which will not have been on display previously and are currently held behind closed doors in storage facilities in Granton on the city’s waterfront.

They will be the final phases of a long-term masterplan, worth more than £70m, unveiled a decade ago. It involved the three-year closure of the historic Royal Museum building, on Chambers Street for a radical overhaul costing £47m, including the creation of extra exhibition spaces and new visitor facilities in former storage areas.

The revamp saw a huge increase in the number of visitors to the site, to almost 1.9 million in 2012, securing it a place in the league table of the world’s most popular attractions.

The cost of the third phase has increased from £11.85m to £14m since the HLF agreed to ringfence £4.85m in July 2012. It is hoped that the lottery money will be confirmed in the next few weeks, allowing work to begin in the autumn.

However, Dr Gordon Rintoul, director of National Museums Scotland, said the original scope of the project had increased substantially since the award was made, including overhauls for the existing “Connect” and “Communicate” galleries.

He told The Scotsman: “We are doing some extra work on top of what was originally envisaged. We are renewing the roof and doing some extra work on the displays over and above what we were planning to do. We could not do everything at the same time a few years ago. We did not have the funding and logistically it was just too difficult.

“The project at that time cost nearly £50m but we had to keep the rest of the museum complex open, but we could not have done these galleries at the same time as there would have been very little still open for visitors.

“We had a masterplan for the whole complex which we published in 2004 and this is actually the third phase of it. Once we have finished this phase, we will be looking at the back of the new museum, where we will be creating Egyptian and Far Eastern galleries. We are still working on the cost of that work, but it will be much smaller in scale.

“The original masterplan we published in 2004 was a 15-year vision and we should be finished all the work within that timescale. We will be carrying out the work in phases from this autumn, which will involve the temporary closure of some parts of the museum, while we decant collections, although it will not affect any of the new galleries we opened three years ago.”

The NMS art and design collection includes work from around Europe dating back to around 1100, including medieval art, jewellery and archaeology, fashion house collections, sculptures, furniture, ceramics and contemporary arts and crafts.

Whistler art a star attraction

ONE of the star attractions in the new-look galleries will be a lavish cabinet painted by the famed American artist James McNeill Whistler.

Recently purchased by the National Museums Scotland for an undisclosed sum, it is said to be hugely important in the history of 19th century European art. A collaboration with the English architect Edward William Godwin, it features Whistler’s trademark butterflies, as well as birds, flowers and clouds.

Other items likely to be featured include an Enigma machine and a tea service created for the Emperor Napoleon.