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The National Galleries of Scotland Reveal Dramatic Changes to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery
Alexander ( Sandy ) Moffat, Poets' Pub (Norman MacCaig, Sorley MacLean, Hugh MacDiarmid, Iain Crichton Smith, George Mackay Brown, Sidney Goodsir Smith, Edwin Morgan, Robert Garioch, Alan Bold and John A. Tonge), 1980. Oil on canvas: 183.00 x 244.00 cm. Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

EDINBURGH.- The National Galleries of Scotland will today reveal the dramatic changes that have transformed the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in the two years since it closed for renovation in April 2009. The £17.6 m project, the first major refurbishment in the Gallery’s 120-year history, has restored much of the architect’s original vision of the building, clearing away an accumulation of twentieth-century interventions, and increasing the public and exhibition space by more than 60 percent. In addition, a range of new visitor facilities has been introduced, which includes a large, purpose-built education suite; an adjoining ‘state-of-the-art’ seminar room; a larger café and shop; a new glass feature lift; an ambitious interactive new media resource and a Learning and Resource Centre. Contractors have completed the work on site and the process of installing one of the world’s largest collections of portraits is about to begin. The dynamic programme of exhibitions, new interpretation and events will re-invent the way in which this world renowned collection is displayed. The rejuvenated Portrait Gallery will reopen to the public on 30 November 2011.

An iconic landmark within Edinburgh’s World Heritage site, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery was designed by the celebrated architect Sir Robert Rowand Anderson, and opened in 1889 as the first purpose-built portrait gallery in the world. The refurbishment of this magnificent Arts and Crafts building has been overseen by Glasgow-based architects Page / Park, whose work has included other high-profile conservation projects such as Glasgow School of Art and the Rosslyn Chapel Conservation and Access Project. Their thoughtful and dynamic design for the Portrait Gallery will, for the first time, give the public full access to the gallery space on all three floors. Features of the design include the insertion of a mezzanine level, to accommodate office space and a new lunch room for schools, in the south east and south west wings of the Gallery, and the remodelling of the ground floor to improve circulation through the building. In addition, the magnificent suite of five top-lit galleries on the upper floor, part of which had been used as a picture store, has been restored to its intended splendour, creating one of the finest display spaces in Scotland.

The project also aims to forge an innovative and exciting new Gallery, which will place a much greater emphasis on its own uniquely wonderful resource, the permanent collection, which numbers over 3,000 paintings and a further 25,000 works on paper. While retaining a strong chronological backbone, based around the four key phases in Scotland’s history: Reformation, Enlightenment, Empire, Modernity, together with the Contemporary, the evolving programme of displays and related activities will explore the richness of Scottish history and culture in a more cohesive and interconnected way. Individual portraits will be seen, not in isolation, but in a wider context within which they can be more richly understood. Photography will be given a much greater prominence and will be integrated into displays throughout the Gallery, as well as having its own major gallery space, the first at the National Galleries of Scotland. This will feature both historic displays drawn from the Galleries’ holdings of some 38,000 photographs, and newly commissioned work by contemporary photographers.

Among the 17 opening displays will be Reformation to Revolution a major exploration of the significance of portraiture in a period of fundamental changes in religion, leadership and nationhood in Scotland, from a time of Catholic absolute monarchy in the mid-16th century, to the Protestant revolution at the end of the 17th century.

Citizens of the World: David Hume & Allan Ramsay will tell the remarkable story of Scotland’s contribution to the Enlightenment, through the portraits of the people who, considered individually and collectively, contributed to the paradigm shifts in attitudes towards humankind and the world during the eighteenth century.

Out of the Shadow: Women of 19th-Century Scotland will consider the lives of female intellectuals, writers and artists whose work helped to change the perceptions and aspirations of their female audience, and to advance the cause of women’s rights during the course of the nineteenth century.

Migration Stories will highlight both the rich cultural diversity of Scotland and Scotland’s impact on the world. Planned as an on-going series of displays, it will explore questions of Scottish identity, encompassing issues of place, belonging, exile and tradition. It will examine how migrants both within and outside Scotland continue to shape the nation. The first exhibition will look at Scotland’s links with Pakistan. Scotland’s Pakistani community is now 30,000 strong, making it the largest ethnic community in the country.

Romantic Camera: Scottish Photography and the Modern World, the opening exhibition of the new Photography Gallery will highlight some of the greatest works in the National Galleries of Scotland’s photography collections, revealing the quality and depth of our holdings. It will explore questions of national identity, with particular reference to the close relationship between romanticism and photography in Scotland. Over 60 works will be on show, ranging from iconic images by Scottish pioneers of photography Hill and Adamson, to new commissions.

Integral to the re-invention of the Portrait Gallery is an extensive and dynamic learning programme complementing the new displays, called Portrait of the Nation: Live! This programme has been devised to engage a very broad range of visitors, both on- and off-site, as well as online. It helps to realise our vision of the Portrait Gallery as a unique, responsive and essential portrayal of Scotland that will stimulate, engage and build relationships with audiences both at home and abroad.

To coincide with the preview this week, the National Galleries of Scotland will also unveil a new brand identity. Prompted by the exciting changes at the Portrait Gallery, and by the need for greater clarity across its whole estate, the National Galleries of Scotland has developed a new corporate logo, and for the first time, new brand identities for each of its three sites in Edinburgh. From 24 May gallery signage and communications will begin to refer to the new branding with the National Gallery Complex at The Mound becoming the Scottish National Gallery and the entire Belford Road site being called the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. It is hoped that these changes will improve the visitor experience, make the NGS more effective in promoting its ambitious public programme and make visitors more aware of all that the family of three sites has to offer.

John Leighton, Director-General of the National Galleries of Scotland commented: “The new Scottish National Portrait Gallery will be a superb setting to showcase rich traditions of Scottish art and photography; it is also a forum where issues of history and identity come to life through art; perhaps, above all, it is a place where individual and collective stories and memories come together to create a fascinating and imaginative portrait of a nation.”

Colin McLean, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: “The restoration of this magnificent building will allow visitors to appreciate its designer’s original vision with the added dynamism and enthusiasm of its current caretakers. The opportunity to view substantially more of the Gallery’s treasures and partake in imaginative interpretation trails or education activities will no doubt delight visitors of all ages. HLF is proud to be a partner in this transformation and we look forward to see the collection back home soon.”

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