Royals’ Scots art collection in Holyrood exhibit

Showstopper: Sir David Wilkie's The Penny Wedding, said to celebrate 'the salt of the earth' in an old master's style, was painted for King George IV. Picture: Contributed
Showstopper: Sir David Wilkie's The Penny Wedding, said to celebrate 'the salt of the earth' in an old master's style, was painted for King George IV. Picture: Contributed
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THE first ever exhibition ­dedicated to Scottish art amassed by generations of the Royal Family is to go on ­display later this year.

The prestigious collection of historic paintings, drawings and furniture that form part of the Royal Collection will be put on show in Edinburgh this summer.

It will showcase works gathered by the monarchy over several centuries, some of which have never before been on public display or been shown in Scotland. The seven-month long exhibition, entitled From Caledonia to Con­tinent, will span the works of Scottish artists from 1750 to 1900.

It includes the work of painters who were born in Scotland and travelled abroad, such as Allan Ramsay, the 18th century portrait painter, and Sir David Wilkie, who became the toast of 19th century London thanks to his narrative paintings of Scotland. He went on to tour the world.

The exhibition will also display the works of those who found inspiration in their homeland, such as Alexander Nasmyth, a portrait and landscape artist who painted his close friend, Robert Burns, and James Giles, an Aberdonian landscape painter who was a ­favourite of the monarchy.

The breadth of paintings covers several generations of the Royal Family, with work gathered by monarchs from George III to Queen Victoria.

Those behind the showcase say it will also highlight the significance and influence of those artists who were shaped by the Scottish Enlightenment.

Deborah Clarke, a curator with the Royal Collection based at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, told Scotland on Sunday: “A lot of the works in the exhibition, including a number of the watercolours and drawings, have not been on public display and a lot of them have not been in Scotland before and are scattered around the royal ­residences.

“I’m really excited to gather the art for the exhibition, so it’s very nice to bring them together and tell a story. One of the aims of the Royal Collection Trust is to make the collection more visible and to have the Queen’s Gallery allow people to see the art.”

She added: “The exhibition will show the versatility and skill of these quality artists and I hope visitors will see how most of them stand up well in a European context as well as learning the story of the royal patronage and the fact so many monarchs were interested in Scottish art and collected a fairly substantial amount of work.”


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Clarke said that by gathering such a prized collection of Scottish art in one place, it would allow people to appreciate various monarchs’ affinity with the country and the relationships that were built up with leading painters.

She explained: “In the ­Victorian era, as we know, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had a great affection for Scotland and two of their ­favourite artists were David Roberts, who came from Stock­bridge and was famous for his work in Egypt and the Holy Land – which allowed 19th century audiences to see the pyramids – and John Phillip, who was Victoria’s absolute ­favourite.

“He came from Aberdeen and had the nickname Spanish Phillip, thanks to his travels and his incredibly vibrant, colourful views of Spain. There are several of his works in the collection and they have never been gathered together so the exhibition will be special in that regard.”

The exhibition will be held at the Queen’s Gallery at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It will open on 6 August and run until 7 February next year.

As well as paintings, it will include other items from the collection, such as the “Tam O’Shanter chair”, carved from a portion of the roof of Alloway Kirk, the town where Burns was born, and acquired by George IV in 1882.

Although it does not have a high public profile, the Royal Collection is regarded as one of the most substantial art collections in the world.

It contains around 7,000 paintings, 500,000 prints and 30,000 watercolours and drawings. Some works are on show at the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace, Holyroodhouse and other palaces open to the public such as Hampton Court Palace and Windsor Castle. The vast majority of the collection, however, is in safekeeping at private royal residences.