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Stories from the Archives

March 29, 2011

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery Archive covers an unexpected variety of topics in its collection of archival papers relating to the history of the Gallery.  Read on to discover more from the best ticket in town, through to cries for new furnishings and undercover activity in the Gallery.

In 1884, in anticipation of the opening of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, a major loan exhibition of national portraits was organised (see half price offer in surviving ticket book for this exhibition).  The exhibition was staged ‘with the view of interesting the public in the subject of Portraiture generally, and of ascertaining the present resting-places of important works of this class in the country.’  The Catalogue for the exhibition admirably described the portraits for those unable to attend in person.  The following characteristics, where evident are all noted: ‘ruddy compexion’, ‘grey yellowish-brown beard’, ‘fair brown hair, puffed out on each side’, ‘very dark squinting eyes’, ‘rosy shaven face’ and ‘green parrot on right hand’.

• Half-Price Ticket Offer for 1884 Spectacular: Loan Exhibition of National Portraits in Anticipation of the Opening of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (SNPG Archive)

Moving on to cries for new furnishings I came across the following topical words the other day – a note recorded in July 1893, not anonymously, however it would be unfair to disclose the individual as it was only fours years since the opening of the Gallery: ‘I am of the opinion that the whole subject of the furnishing of the Portrait Gallery should receive thorough attention, with as little delay as possible.’  This sweeping statement was prompted by the fact that the Gallery Attendant’s chair on the top floor was ‘covered with a piece of red satin, nailed on roughly by himself’.  Unfortunately no photographic evidence survives.  During the next few months we will be in a position to tick this request as ‘completed’ – almost 120 years on from it being officially logged.

Other images worthy of a place in the history of the Gallery can be seen below.

Spies Caught Undercover in the Portrait Gallery (SNPG Archive)

Catastrophic Crash (SNPG Archive) (click on the image to enlarge)

• Mary, Queen of Scots Allegedly Sleeps in All Scottish Bedrooms – including as befits a Queen, the Great Hall of the Portrait Gallery (SNPG Archive)

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