It was a bad time to visit I think. Early November and the Christmas Market was being erected all around the Gallery. In addition, the Gallery was engaged in major renovation and development work that meant the walk to the entrance was extended and not very impressive.
On entering the Gallery I was surprised by how run-down it felt. A notice in the foyer suggested a previous refurbishment had taken place in the 1980s and it felt like that. However, there were large boards announcing that they were planning to house the paintings depicting Scotland’s art history in a new extension. I am not always a fan of retail outlets in museums and galleries although I do like to take something away with me when I leave, and the shop was tiny and poorly stocked.
Of course, I could not fail to be impressed by Titian’s (1485/90-1576) Diana and Callisto 1556-9 as I entered the Gallery:
Callisto, was seduced by Jupiter, and stripped of her clothes to reveal her pregnancy. Banished for her shameful state, she was transformed into a bear by Jupiter’s jealous wife Juno. However, Callisto was later immortalised by Jupiter as the constellation of The Great Bear.
I eventually found a small room displaying Scottish art. The display that took my eye was a combination of five paintings and particularly the two by John Knox (1778-1845) on the top row.
A sought after painter in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Knox worked in the west of Scotland. The two on display in the National Gallery depict the south-western and north-western views of Ben Lomond. The former shows a couple sketching the same view across the Firth of Clyde and the second depicts the northern slopes of the Ben and the upper reaches of Loch Lomond.
Then, onto one of the most iconic images from the nineteenth century The Monarch of the Glen (about 1851) by Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-1873).
The attraction of this image, for me, is that it captures the grandeur of the Scotland’s highlands and wildlife. Landseer first visited Scotland in 1824 and was deeply inspired by the experience, developing an affinity with the novelist and poet, Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) who featured later on in the Gallery in a portrait by Sir William Allan (1782-1850).
A painting that captured my imagination was Waller Hugh Paton’s (1828-1895) of Dunnottar Castle (1867). By the 1860s the castle had become a favourite subject for Scottish painters and photographers. I can vouch for the fact that this remains the case today, certainly in terms of photographers.
Apart from the art of Scotland, my other reason for a visit was to see paintings by the impressionists including Sisley, Monet and Degas and some work by J M W Turner. I was particularly taken by the Degas (1834-1917) on display. Before the Performance (1890s) had an autumnal colour palette which is different to other Degas I had seen elsewhere:
Whilst I was able to view Sisley and Degas, Turner and Monet were conspicuous by their absence. At the end of my visit I was concerned I may have missed them, but was informed that they were out on loan.
A mixed first visit for me to the National Gallery of Scotland, although as I write this account, perhaps it was not as disappointing as my memory records it.