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Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh opens following £17.6 million transformation
Gallery staff talk to each other in the Jacobite Room of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, Scotland November 28, 2011. The gallery is to open to the public on Thursday after a two and a half year year 17.6 million pounds ($27.4 million) restoration project, which has increased its overall space by sixty percent. REUTERS/David Moir.

EDINBURGH.- The Scottish National Portrait Gallery (SNPG) will open on 1 December, following an ambitious £17.6m restoration project and with an entirely new presentation of its world-famous collection. The project – the first major refurbishment in the Gallery’s 120-year history – has restored much of the architect’s original vision, opening up previously inaccessible parts of the building and increasing the public space by more than 60 percent. It has also added a range of new facilities that will utterly transform visitors’ experience of the Gallery. Entry to the new Portrait Gallery will be completely free.

The Collection
The SNPG opened in 1889 as the world’s first purpose-built portrait gallery and is now an iconic landmark in the heart of Scotland’s capital. Over the past century, its collection of portraits has grown to become one of the largest and finest in the world, comprising 3,000 paintings and sculptures, 25,000 prints and drawings. This distinctive red sandstone building also houses the national collection of photography with some 38,000 historic and modern photographs.

For the first time since the Gallery was established, access to the exhibition spaces on all three levels has been opened up, while the restoration of the magnificent suite of top-lit galleries on the upper floor has created one of the most impressive display spaces in Scotland. As a result, a much greater proportion of the collection will be on show, bringing to light a wealth of art works that has been, until now, largely hidden from view.

The New Displays
The new displays will follow a chronological pattern but will also focus on various themes and subjects in greater depth, exploring the richness of Scottish history and culture in a more cohesive and interconnected way, and telling the story of its people and places through the lens of the visual arts. Individual portraits – from Mary, Queen of Scots to Dr Who actor Karen Gillan – will be set in a broader context of thematic displays ranging from the Reformation to the present day.

Supported by loans from other collections, and by a fresh approach to information and interpretation, including trails, themes and an interactive touchscreen gallery, this new presentation of the permanent collection will help bring to life the portraits and the stories behind them, as well as exploring many facets of Scottish life and the nation’s wider influence throughout the world. The displays are designed to change and evolve so that over time, the public will have access to different aspects of this extraordinarily rich and diverse collection.

The Photography Gallery
The new Portrait Gallery will, for the first time, include a major space dedicated to showcasing the Gallery’s unparalleled holdings of Scottish and international photography, as well as newly commissioned work by contemporary photographers. The significance of photography will be emphasised throughout the Gallery, where it will be integrated into many of the displays.

The Contemporary Gallery
On the ground floor, the Contemporary Gallery will bring the story up to date, with a series of displays from the Gallery’s collection of contemporary portraits, special loan exhibitions, and commissions from some of Scotland’s most celebrated contemporary artists. The inaugural display will feature Missing, a video installation by Graham Fagen, commissioned as part of a unique partnership between the Portrait Gallery and the National Theatre of Scotland.

The Building
The refurbishment of the Gallery, a magnificent Arts and Crafts building designed by the celebrated architect Sir Robert Rowand Anderson, has been overseen by Glasgow-based architects Page \ Park. Their sensitive design has restored many of the building’s original features, which had been hidden behind an accumulation of twentieth-century interventions, while incorporating essential modern services, such as the great glass lift that will take visitors up through the heart of the building. The remodeling of the ground floor has improved circulation for visitors, as well as providing an open and airy view along the entire length of the building. Office space has been cleverly accommodated in a new mezzanine level and, for the first time there is an education suite, with a seminar room and studio space. In addition, the Gallery’s ever-popular café and shop have doubled in size.

The refurbished Gallery will also make use of a number of pioneering techniques to achieve a significant reduction in energy consumption. Using the mass of the building, new insulation and sophisticated controls to permit slow changes over wider ranges of temperature and humidity, the gallery spaces will use 42 percent less energy that previously. In addition, the Gallery will be lit by cutting-edge, low-energy LEDs (light-emitting diodes) which combine economy with excellent colour rendering qualities.

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November 29, 2011

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