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Scottish art takes centre stage as plans to transform Scottish National Gallery are revealed
Scottish National Gallery Project: View of the Scottish National Gallery from the North Bridge at night. Photo: © Gillian Hayes for Hoskins Architects.

EDINBURGH.- Ambitious plans to create an internationally significant new setting for the world’s greatest collection of Scottish art were revealed today, as work to transform the Scottish National Gallery gets underway.

This major project will completely transform the way Scottish art is shown at the Gallery, which stands in the heart of Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site. The £22m scheme will create a new suite of galleries that will be directly accessible from the adjoining Princes St Gardens, and provide a light-filled, new home for the Gallery’s unrivalled collection of Scottish art, raising its profile for visitors from all over the world.

The vision for the project has been driven by the National Galleries’ ambition to ensure that the widest number of people can enjoy our art and activities. The displays in the new galleries will be directly informed by extensive research into the needs of existing and potential audiences.

For the first time in a generation, there will be new displays drawn from the Scottish and international collection throughout the entire Gallery. This fresh approach will allow us to tell much richer stories about Scotland’s art reflecting the international significance of pioneering figures such as Allan Ramsay, Gavin Hamilton and Sir David Wilkie.

The scope of the new displays, which will be revealed when the new galleries open in early 2021, will also be broader, encompassing the work of early 20th-century artists such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Stanley Cursiter and the Scottish Colourists S J Peploe and F C B Cadell.

The project will create a beautiful new space in the heart of Edinburgh, which will be free for everyone to use and enjoy. A series of large windows, running the length of the new gardens-level façade, will fill the galleries with light and colour, and offer spectacular views over one of the most celebrated cityscapes in the world. Extensive new landscaping in the gardens will radically improve access to this much-loved part of the city, and the project will also create a larger shop, brand new café and more accessible restaurant.

Specific activities on completion of the project include a dedicated family day one day a week, more volunteers in galleries to talk with people about the art and ensuring that our interpretation is appealing to everyone.

Construction work on the project - which is supported by The National Lottery and Scottish Government - will begin in October. During the two years of construction, the Gallery will be open as usual with free admission. The first milestone will be the opening of a new coffee shop this Christmas, followed by a refreshed restaurant and shop, as well as new steps and accessible paths by Spring 2019.

Speaking today, Sir John Leighton, Director-General of the National Galleries of Scotland, said: “This is a hugely exciting time for us, as we see our ambitious plans for the Scottish National Gallery getting underway. We will create the perfect showcase for the nation’s extraordinary collection of Scottish art, giving it room to breathe and showing it off with real pride to the world. This ambitious project will completely transform the experience of our visitors, creating a National Gallery that is even more open, engaging and inviting with new presentations of Scotland’s art in a setting that will be truly world-class. All will be welcome whether to come in and immerse themselves in the highly romantic paintings of the Scottish Highlands, to take part in a family day or just to linger, enjoy the views and maybe pick up one of our sketch pads.”

Dr Tricia Allerston, Co-Director, Scottish National Gallery Project, added: “Visitor numbers to the Scottish National Gallery have almost doubled in the past ten years but fewer than one in six of them made their way to the cramped, dark spaces which used to house the national collection of Scottish art. Soon, visitors will be able easily to discover, appreciate and enjoy our highly significant collections of Scottish art through a series of innovative displays designed expressly to engage them. Imagine looking at a painting of Sir Walter Scott and then looking out of the windows into Princes Street Gardens, a landscape created during his lifetime and which is now dominated by the great monument marking his international fame. Or being able to appreciate the stunning Scottish landscapes painted outdoors by the Glasgow Boys and then looking out onto a real, natural world.”

The SNG redevelopment has been designed by one of Scotland’s leading architectural practices, Hoskins Architects, which has been widely praised for a number of high-profile designs in the arts and cultural sector. The new designs will place the main entrance to the SNG in Princes St Gardens, giving instant access to the Scottish collection, and much easier routes to the rest of the building as a whole. Additional display space will be created by transforming former offices, and the design will seamlessly connect the Gallery with the gardens beyond.

During construction work we intend to keep disruption in the surrounding area and in the Gallery itself to a minimum, though there will be some room closures as galleries are rehung, and the facilities in the gallery are refreshed. To enable excavation works to the galleries directly beneath, the Playfair Steps, at the rear of the SNG, will be closed for the duration of the building work.

Aside from a short period in early 2019, the Mound precinct will remain open, and events such as the Christmas market will go ahead as scheduled.

Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop, said: “This exciting project will further enhance our nation’s profile and raise the international profile of our world-class galleries, ensuring that visitors in Scotland and from all over the world can enjoy our arts and cultural heritage. I am very pleased that the Scottish Government will contribute £5.5 million towards ensuring that the Scottish National Gallery gives the national collection of Scottish artworks the prominence and public access it deserves.”

Lucy Casot, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: “This is a hugely exciting time for Scotland’s arts and cultural heritage with the recent openings of Mackintosh at the Willow and the V&A Dundee and now the beginning of a wonderful new gallery, none of which would be possible without funds from the National Lottery playing public.This, the most important collection of Scottish Art in the world, will be given a bright, modern gallery worthy of its impressive heritage bringing joy and inspiration to all those who visit.”

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