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Scottish National Portrait Gallery OPENED TODAY

December 1, 2011

So the Scottish National Portrait Gallery is OPEN!

Portrait Gallery Opening 01.12.11 012

At 10am this morning we all gathered outside with the Preston Lodge High School Pipe Band to watch those much loved doors open to the public, announced by James Holloway, Portrait Gallery Director and opened by John Byrne. They will open at 10am 7-days-a-week from now on!

The Great Hall

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Just for you, we’ve quickly run round with our camera and snapped people having a look in the never-seen-before exhibitions. From Women of the 18th-Century to Romantic Camera and back to the Reformation charting the mid-1500s to the end of the seventeenth century and on to the Jacobites in Imagining Power: The Visual Culture of the Jacobite Cause – the Portrait Gallery covers plenty of ground AND all of that’s before you will see Dolly the Sheep’s death mask and Hot Scots 21st century faces… and breathe… the 17 gallery spaces cover a lot of ground!

Romantic Camera

It was very exciting this morning seeing John Byrne knock on the door of the Portrait Gallery and step inside. The gallery is designed with you in mind, there’s been loads of brilliant feedback already on facebook and twitter and there were some very lovely comments on the gallery and its new light open feel today from those first through the doors.

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I hope you will have a chance to come down and see the new Gallery soon – entry is completely free – and on Thursdays from next week 8 December we’ll be open late until 7pm.

Romantic Camera films

Scottish National Portrait Gallery Opens Tomorrow – 01 Dec

November 30, 2011

Citizens of the World SNPG

The new Scottish National Portrait Gallery finally opens tomorrow after its 2-and-a-half year closure for restoration and refurbishment.

Romantic Camera 2

Here is a selection of images which show the new gallery spaces, ready and waiting for the public to come in and enjoy. All in all, there is 60 percent more space open to the public.


Graham Fagen’s Missing in the Contemporary Gallery, the video installation is one of the new Portrait Gallery’s first commisions.

Faces & Places

Faces & Placesis a new and exciting addition to the Portrait Gallery. The digital library is found in many of the exhibitions, and there’s a dedicated Faces & Places touchscreen gallery on the first floor, where you can explore the collections under a starry ceiling!

Pioneers of Science - Higgs
Looking forward to welcoming you into the new gallery…

The Final Straight – Scottish National Portrait Gallery Finishing Touches

November 10, 2011

Temporary Office with Portrait Gallery

We are on the final straight now. By the time we welcome our first visitors it will have been four full-time years of Portrait of the Nation for me.

Above is the temporary office I share with Willie Dickson and Anne Buddle: The Command Module.

The first few works are up

But there can be no flagging, for there is still plenty to be done. The first batch of what will be about 1000 light fittings arrived today – made in Scotland and of pioneering LED (light emitting diode) design. The light quality in the trials looked terrific and the energy consumption will be about one fifth of the tungsten equivalents. Althought it is a measure of how naturally bright the building now is that we have hardly noticed the lack of artificial lighting.

A fully hung gallery!
Those pictures that have been hung look revived in their new surroundings.

Faces & Places: Bonnie Prince Charlie

November 8, 2011

Three years ago, when we first put our heads together to think up some digital ideas for the opening of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, I’m pretty sure interviewing Bonnie Prince Charlie wasn’t one of them … yet here we are.

Bonnie Prince Charlie 4

The photos show ‘living history’ re-enactor Arran Johnston being filmed by the wonderful Dougie and Shu from Rapid Visual Media. Arran is dressed in full Prince Charles Edward Stuart costume (complete with tartan trews and basket-hilt broadsword) as I talk to him about the finer details of the 1745 uprising, Culloden and his escape with Flora MacDonald. It really did help this complex piece of history – and the character at the centre of it – become clear to me, so I hope it works for our visitors too.

Bonnie Prince Charlie 3

The final video will be available on Faces & Places, our touchscreen gallery which is being developed by top digital agency Lightmaker UK (their other clients include JK Rowling and Manchester United). Faces & Places will allow visitors to explore the portraits of Scotland by finding connections, watching videos and playing games.

Bonnie Prince Charlie 2

Solving a seemingly insurmountable dilemma!

October 27, 2011

What do we do when two paintings are simply too large to reach the top floor of the Portrait Gallery?

Ready to roll

Onto the horse

This was the problem faced by the Conservation Department this summer as it was discovered that two very large historical group portraits – both essential to one of the major exhibitions on the top floor, Imagining Power exploring Scotland’s Jacobite history – would neither fit up the stairwell nor in the new lift (the paintings had previously been on display on the ground floor).

Holding collective breaths as the 'gate' is closed

Traditionally in this situation paintings are removed from their wooden stretchers and rolled onto a large ‘drum’. We were anxious to avoid this as both paintings had complex conservation histories having been both fully lined (a new canvas added using a paste adhesive) then strip-lined (tacking margins only strengthened with canvas using a wax-resin adhesive). Everyone put their heads together and an alternative was researched, discussed and finally implemented amid lots of breath-holding, teeth gnashing and finger crossing!

On the move 2

On the move

Essentially (and this is very much a concise summary) a ‘horse’-like structure was built to size. With the painting lying face down only the central parts of the stretcher were cut and removed temporarily for transport. The horse was then rolled across the back of the painting and attached at either end by two end wooden ‘gates’. The result was a canvas fully supported as it lay ‘draped’ across the rounded, padded, mobile form. Once safely transported from the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art to Queen Street the procedure was reversed and the original stretcher was bolted back together. It all sounds so simple!

Time to un-roll

In this instance pictures do speak louder than words…. Suffice to say that despite elevated stress levels all round, it was an exemplary project for cultivating good team work and a large group of conservators, technicians and art handlers was involved both in the preparation and on the ‘action’ days.

Re-attaching the stretcher

Thanks to everyone’s attention to detail, enthusiasm and good humour I am delighted to report that the two paintings were transferred safely and without incident.


Looking spectacular in the newly refurbished top-lit gallery space you would never know the structural trauma and hours of hard work involved in getting them there!

Bringing Portraits to Life!

September 23, 2011

How time has flown! It seems only a few weeks ago that I started my new role as Learning Coordinator for the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, but glancing across at my calendar I can see that I have been in post for several months now! I can’t believe it – not long to go until the November re-opening, so I had better get my skates on.  I manage the family and community programmes and projects as well as coordinating the new learning spaces at the Portrait Gallery. It’s a fabulous opportunity and I’m really enjoying being part of the Education team.

Before joining National Galleries of Scotland, I worked at the National Museum of Scotland – another brilliant re-development project. Unfortunately I left before I got the chance to peek inside the museum, so I am delighted to say, that I am actually writing this blog from within the walls of the transformed Scottish National Portrait Gallery. We have officially moved back in and there’s quite a buzz about the place with the first exhibitions being installed and staff unpacking in their new offices – what a place to come to work in the morning! Seeing some of the portraits ‘in the flesh’ (so to speak) has really brought home to me the wonderfully rich potential of the collection for families.

The new purpose-built education suite

The new purpose-built education suite

One of the approaches I am developing for family audiences is to invite storytellers, re-enactors and actors, as well as artists to bring the portraits to life and offer new perspectives. I love the idea of walking, talking portraits, but even more than that, I like the idea of offering playful ways of exploring and interrogating well-known characters and works of art. I’d like families to help re-create some of the portraits, decide ‘What happened next?’ and to get involved using costumes, music, props and lots of imagination. To this end I’m creating a new regular Sunday afternoon drop-in activity called Meet the Ancestors. It will join its illustrious colleagues Portrait Detectives (currently at the Scottish National Gallery, but to transfer to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery from November) Art Cart (at the Scottish National Gallery) and Bags of Art (at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art). This means that there will be something happening for families at the National Galleries of Scotland every weekend throughout the year.

Portrait Detectives at the Scottish National Gallery, photograph by Alicia Bruce

In addition to this there will be a fun new trail to take families on a journey around the Portrait Gallery. This will be part of a suite of free, themed trails developed to let different groups, including community groups, schools and adults to explore the new galleries, making new and unexpected discoveries along the way.

I can’t wait to see the first members of the public walk through those doors!

The Beardmore Girls: We’ll be singing when we’re winning!

September 16, 2011

The nature of the length of exhibition labels means that only certain aspects about an artwork can be relayed in the physical display environment.  After writing the labels for one of the Portrait Gallery’s re-opening exhibitions, Playing for Scotland, I am now searching around for connections with collections on display in the other new Portrait Gallery exhibitions. These correlations can initially be extraneous but on reflection bring together seemingly disparate subjects.

Sport, particularly football, played an important part in the First World War. In 1918 The Field magazine reported: ‘the spirit of sport, has become one of the most distinctive marks of the British Army and it will be a task worthy of the greatest historians to record what this sporting spirit has done, not only for the British Army, not only for the British Empire, but for the whole civilised world during the present war.’ The two exhibitions Playing for Scotland and War at Sea bring to light how the role of women in the First World War was, for eighty minutes on Saturday 2 March 1918 at Celtic Park, twinned with the beautiful game.  The objects that point to this subject and which will both be on display when the Gallery re-opens on 30 November are the reproduction of a poster hanging in the sport exhibition and a painting by Sir John Lavery in War at Sea: Scene at a Clyde Shipyard (Beardmore & Co. Ltd.). Lavery gained access to one of Sir William Beardmore’s engineering works, the gun factory at Dalmuir on the Lower Clyde, in order to paint this scene. The women on the shop floor appear to be doing some kind of finishing work on gun barrels.  It was the Dalmuir girls’ colleagues at Beardmore’s Parkhead factory who were chosen to play at Celtic Park.

By the start of the First World War Celtic’s ground capacity had risen to 70,000, but by 1916 the professional game in Scotland had been suspended. The ladies’ match, held between the works teams of Beardmore’s at Parkhead and Vickers-Maxim at Barrow-in-Furness and billed as a charity match between munition girls, must have been keenly anticipated. Although it was wartime, the game was accompanied by entertainment: a plane from the Dalmuir works visited the ground and there was an exhibition by a Mr Handford of his skill as a ‘donkey expert’. The Vickers team won 4-0 with one of their goals an own goal by the Scottish ladies. The Beardmore girls were therefore unable to show off their singing skills!

William Beardmore, Baron Invernairn (1856-1936). Photographed by T & R Annan in 1932


Both William Beardmore & Co and Vickers were major contributors to the war effort. William Beardmore was committed to the production of weapons and munitions, often making investments without government guarantees.

As well as the main works at Parkhead and Dalmuir, several other factories were taken over to produce a range of war materials, including artillery, shells, warships, aeroplanes and airships. There was a labour shortage, which led to the employment of many thousands of women, particularly in munitions works. The near location of Celtic Park to the munitions bases is likely the reason for the choice of playing the game there.

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