Art lovers get a look behind the scenes

THE misty panorama is one we’re all familiar with. From the ramparts of the Castle, Edinburgh sprawls out ahead of us - the landmark Scott Monument standing tall and proud, the spire of St Giles piercing the grey sky and the lush trees of Princes Street Gardens breathing life into the heart of the city.

But this is a view of Edinburgh most of us have never seen before.

David Roberts’ beautiful 1846 portrayal of the city is just one of dozens of works of art recently purchased by the National Gallery of Scotland, which, until now, has been kept in careful storage.

Stunning as it is, it is also fragile and is normally kept out of public gaze in the Print Room. There it is protected from prolonged exposure to light, to be viewed strictly by appointment only.

Now, for a limited time, it has left its dark home to be once again appreciated by art lovers.

The exhibition, From the Madonna to the Moulin Rouge, is a chance to see this and around 30 other works of art which have recently been added to the National Gallery of Scotland’s massive collection. In many cases, it is the first time the works have gone on show since they were acquired by the gallery.

Many, like Roberts’ View from Ramparts of Edinburgh Castle Looking East, show the city from a time gone by. There is John White Abbott’s 1791 sketchy watercolour of Edinburgh from Donibristle, across the Firth of Forth; Turner’s Edinburgh from Calton Hill and Heriot’s Hospital, Edinburgh; and Alexander Nasmyth’s The Old Chain Pier, Newhaven.

"The exhibition shows the wide range of drawings we have been collecting from all Schools and in a variety of medium," says curator Valerie Hunter. "It’s a showcase for our new works. It’s nice to see them hanging as a group."

The Print Room holds about 20,000 drawings and prints, which can be viewed by appointment only. It’s one of Scotland’s largest graphics collections and includes substantial holdings of drawings from Scottish, English, Italian, French, Dutch and German Schools, as well as significant prints by Rembrandt, DŸrer, Goya and Hogarth.

The main draw of the exhibition, however, is likely to be the two works by JMW Turner.

Edinburgh from Calton Hill and Heriot’s Hospital, Edinburgh, were painted in 1816, the artist using the scenic backdrops of the city to romanticise nature. Both have a hazy quality that Turner uses to convey the sublime, and the foregrounds are full of the bustle and clamour of street life.

He shows us colourful and chaotic caricatures of Edinburgh women with bundles of clothes spilling everywhere, which is unusual as people normally play a minor part in his paintings.

Turner depicts Robert Adam’s Bridewell, or city jail, in his view from Calton Hill, and Heriot’s Hospital, now George Heriot’s School.

The watercolours, which were once owned by Sir Walter Scott, were described by him as "daring representation[s] of one of the most magnificent views in this romantic city".

Around the time that Turner painted his Edinburgh watercolours, Nasmyth painted The Old Chain Pier, Newhaven. The Chain Pier was destroyed in 1898 in a storm. Today, all that remains of the site is the old Chain Pier Bar.

Valerie explains the watercolour’s appeal. "The Old Chain Pier no longer exists and the scenery depicted here has now been lost forever, apart from in some sketches and early photographs.

"Here, the glorious blue colouring of the cloudy sky and lapping sea, and the panoramic view over the Firth of Forth to the Fife coast, would not be depicted quite so dramatically, or romantically, in early photographs. It will be interesting to chart what other changes are made to this landscape with the new developments ongoing today at Granton and Newhaven."

Artists’ interests are often given away in the subjects they paint. For example, Nasmyth was an amateur nautical scientist, who invented the "bow and string" bridge and contributed to the first paddle steamer.

There are a few drawings on show by "the Glasgow boys" and friends. Moniaive is a watercolour by one of their older, less radical members, James Paterson.

Arthur Melville, who had close connections with the group, was a more radical artist. At first glance one of his bright watercolours, Dancers at the Moulin Rouge, looks like an ink-blot test of a bat. His technique using fluid spots later influenced many British artists.

His two watercolours are among Valerie’s favourites. "I like the abstract qualities of the Melvilles. It’s nice having something more abstract, compared with our other more figurative works that are in the collection. If you look closely, you can just see a little figure in the Moulin Rouge audience, lost among all the swirling petticoats and raising a tiny hand in excitement."

But the exhibition is not exclusively for viewers interested in Scottish art: the Dutch, Flemish, French and Italian Schools are also featured.

One of the more arresting of these drawings is well placed. With triple-chinned, bulbous head and sunken eyes, A Man wearing a Tasselled Hat, confronts the viewer as they enter the exhibition. It’s an ink drawing by Hendrick Goltzius, completed in 1587.

Opposite Goltzius’ "grotesque" man - a style then popular in the Netherlands - is the elegant depiction of Jane Maxwell, Duchess of Gordon, by John Brown.

Parisien artist Paul Delaroche, whose watercolour Les Girondins shows a scene from the French Revolution, went on to specialise in English history. He is probably most famous for the masterpiece The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, in the National Gallery, London.

From The Madonna to the Moulin Rouge is at the National Gallery of Scotland at The Mound. Monday to Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 12-5pm. Admission free.