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Portrait Gallery Events: Week Three

February 10, 2012

Portrait Gallery Insights: Playing For Scotland

12.45pm. Wednesday 1 February.

30 minute talk

Lunchtimes can be used for many pursuits, eating, going to the gym, getting some chores done, some people even play games on their smartphone, but, as many people have discovered over the last two months, you can also learn a fact or two on your lunch break by attending talks at the Portrait Gallery. Imogen Gibbon curator of Playing for Scotland opens this week’s talk referring to how many works there are within the exhibition and that 30 sports are represented. This exhibition will be one of the longer running in the Portrait Gallery, intended to stay on the walls, (with wee changes and works swapped round) until late 2014 – so it’ll see both the London 2012 Olympics and Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Playing for Scotland lunchtime talk

Imogen is clear to point out both the regular and absurd nature of sport as a hobby, lifestyle and leisure activity over the last few centuries. Shinty, we learn, was actually played ‘rule-less’ for the most part, and better still, any rules (we’re talking members of the team and rough length of play) were the privilege of the home team to decide. That would bring new meaning to the 6 Nations wouldn’t it…? ‘Aye, we’ll go for 3 hours and I think we’ll take on 20 players today as everyone’s feeling spritely’. Great stuff.

Donald Dinnie, C J Beattie,
This coloured photograph of Donald Dinnie by C J Beattie is taken from the Scottish National Portrait Gallery collection.

Development of sport – into a ‘rule-filled’ territory – over the 19th Century was the domain of newspapers and photos are passed round the room. Many of the key works in the room pre-date the advent of sports reporting and mainstream photography. Works show archery, golf, curling, hunting and of course the Highland Games spanning through to Victorian women rock-climbing in full skirts. These photographs mark the development from posed and remembered portraits of sports through both posed and live action photography.  This 1843 photo of a tennis player is a brilliant example.

Playing for Scotland lunchtime talk

Scottish tradition includes events like the Highland Games or the Leith Races (to name just two); David Webster comments in the video in the centre of exhibition how the Highland Games are Scotland’s “biggest sporting legacy” as the group turn to see footage of the Caber Toss. But also, Donald Dinnie, Scotland’s First Sporting Superstar features in Imogen’s talk, whilst a bronze statue, stands tall in the cabinet in the centre of the room.

Also covered are the brilliant names for everyday sports – ‘Battledore and Shuttlecock’ and ‘Pedestrianism’ are unrivalled in their brilliance, (in our humble opinion.) Pedestrianism = competitive walking. If you have any other wonderful, witty or interesting historic names for sports – please comment below!

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