Portrait Gallery Events: Week Four
2pm. Saturday 18 February
45 Minute Tour
The Architecture Tour starts with an introduction to the building in the Great Hall. Matthew Latusek, PhD student at the University of Edinburgh leads the 45 minute tour which guides the group right through the building. Built between 1885 and 1889 and shared with the Museum of Antiquaries for over 100 years it was to be a ‘Temple of Caledonian Fame.’ A place to present the great and the good of Scotland: Starting with the Frieze in the Great Hall Matthew points to detail such as the figures of Scottish history marching back towards the figure of Caledonia.
It is not the warmest of Saturdays (it’s utterly freezing) but we head outside into the Edinburgh wind to look at the 5672 sq metre building from its best vantage point, Queen Street. The Gothic sandstone building’s huge windows were a very deliberate design by architect Sir Robert Rowand Andersen who wanted light to flood the building and create spacious well-lit galleries. Initially towers were designed to sit on each of the top four corners of the building, but they did not make the final design which, as Matthew describes, shows real pragmatism alongside romantic ideas of French gothic architecture. Sir Anderson trained under George Gilbert Scott – who designed St. Pancras Station – so we’re in good company.
We head back into the building, and turn left through the new spacious foyer into the Contemporary Gallery, currently hosting Missing and Hot Scots. (Missing is only on to the end of March so make sure you head in to see it). This space housed the Museum of Antiquaries and was full of cabinets and screens, now it’s just one large open multipurpose space. Significant interventions – by renovating architects PagePark – include opening up the previously closed vestibule and adding the education mezzanine that sits along the back of the contemporary gallery creating both a workshop space for school groups and a lunchroom above without compromising on having a large, light and open gallery space.
The group walk up to the top floor past The Library, where Matthew explains the practicalities of moving such an elaborate structure (think the Chocolate Shop in the original 1971 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory film but with books and artifacts) to another floor but also explains how the move to the middle floor makes sense for the building as a whole. The Library used to be up on the top floor blocking the natural light, and the natural flow of the building – this is now Gallery 1: Reformation to Revolution and opens up the top floor as a circuit of galleries. This is a great example of the purpose of renovating architects PagePark in practice: showcasing the original design and creating an accessible contemporary gallery space. The tour wraps up on the top floor, in Gallery 5 and 6, which show off the original top-lit feature of the building; flooding the space with natural light.
Learning about additions and omissions to the original 1880s design through to the purpose and design of a modern gallery is fascinating, it’s no surprise the tours are proving popular! Have a look at booking in on one of the monthly Saturday tours here and read more about the Scottish National Portrait Gallery History and Architecture at nationalgalleries.org.