Major WWI exhibition heads Galleries’ 2014 plans

'Rope workers in an unidentified factory, probably Dundee', by George P. Lewis. Picture: National Galleries of Scotland
'Rope workers in an unidentified factory, probably Dundee', by George P. Lewis. Picture: National Galleries of Scotland
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THE National Galleries of Scotland is to stage its biggest show yet on the impact the First World War had on the people of Scotland for the centenary of the outbreak of the conflict.

The exhibition will examine the build-up to the war, the huge impact it had on both the Scots who fought and the loved ones left behind, the huge medical response and efforts to commemorate the dead.

The personal stories of Peter Pan author JM Barrie, who lost a son; architect George Washington Brown, who lost three sons; and Lord Reith, the BBC’s founder, who was scarred in the face by a German sniper, will all feature in the year-long exhibition.

The Galleries’ plans for a “poignant and thought-provoking” show have been unveiled weeks after chiefs at National Museums Scotland announced two major exhibitions in the capital next year to mark the landmark anniversary of the

beginning of the war.

As with the museums and next year’s Edinburgh International Festival, the galleries 2014 exhibition line-up does not include anything directly inspired by the prospect of the Scottish independence referendum.

Sir John Leighton, director-general of the organisation, said: “I wouldn’t look for a direct link with the politics of the referendum, but we’re very aware that what is happening next year does create a lens through which we will be examined.

“While we might not directly embrace the world of politics with our subject, there is a platform there for discussion and debate, whether it is through artists or the public, on what is Scottish art and culture, what it looks like now and how it relates to the international scene.”

Paintings, drawings, photographs and correspondence will all be showcased in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery show – Remembering the Great War – including such central figures as King George V and Earl Haig, the Edinburgh-born commander of British forces on the Western Front for most of the war.

It will also explore the roles played by Marjory Kennedy-Fraser, the Perthshire founder of what was to become the Edinburgh War Hospital, and Elsie Inglis, the Edinburgh-born doctor who set up hospitals – entirely staffed by female volunteers – to support the Allied war effort in France, Russia and Serbia.

Senior statesmen, military figures, artists, servicemen and women, and the staff who treated them will all be depicted, while there will be a display of recently captured images of the Somme battlefield in France.

However, the show will also recall the anti-war contributions of politicians like James Keir Hardie and James Ramsay MacDonald, as well as such artists as William McCance, jailed for being a conscientious objector, and Lady Margaret Sackville, a poet and children’s author, who spoke out over the involvement of women in the war effort.

The galleries said the war exhibition – which will open on the 100th anniversary of Britain declaring war on Germany – would make a “major contribution” to next year’s global commemoration.

Christopher Baker, director of the portrait gallery, said: “The exhibition will be largely drawn from our permanent collections, but using them in a fresh and different way. We’ll be focusing on the Scottish experience of the war, not just the military experience, but the way in which the war utterly changed social life, political life and working life for generations of people. We’ll be looking at famous figures as well as completely unknown figures and addressing the question of how they were affected.”

• Remembering the Great War runs at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery from August 2014-July 2015.