National Galleries of Scotland acquires amazing new art for Scotland

There’s always something to discover in the National, Portrait and Modern galleries in Edinburgh. In this new series we’re shining a light on some of the artworks being added to Scotland’s national art collection

Advertorial by The Skinny | 02 Apr 2024
  • Ncuti Gatwa
National Galleries Scotland
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The National Galleries of Scotland takes care of our country’s incredible art collection, a collection which contains thousands of works spanning several centuries, including paintings, drawings, sculptures and more. A big part of caring for the collection is ensuring the people of Scotland know that these works are there to be discovered, explored, and loved. They belong to everyone in Scotland, and are on show at the National Galleries’ four Edinburgh locations – Portrait on Queen Street, National on the Mound, Modern One and Modern Two to the west on Belford Road – each with free-to-enter permanent displays as well as a year-round programme of exhibitions and events.

In the next few issues, we’re going to be taking a closer look at some of the Galleries’ recent acquisitions and finding out more about these incredible works of art. This month we’re focussing on a vibrant work currently on display to see in the Portrait gallery: renowned photographer Robert Wilson’s portrait of Scottish-Rwandan actor Ncuti Gatwa, who shot to fame in Netflix’s Sex Education and now holds one of this country’s most-loved roles as the Doctor in Doctor Who.

Liz Louis, European, Scottish art and Portraiture curator, explains what drew her to this particular artwork. “We knew we wanted to add a portrait of Ncuti Gatwa to the national collection and this photograph by Robert Wilson perfectly captures his warm personality, that comes across in interviews. The setting is a very traditional studio background, but the image breaks out of the constraints of portrait photography. It feels like a picture that has caught the sitter in an unposed moment. And the yellow suit just pops!”

Portrait photo of Ncuti Gatwa, sitting on a tall stool wearing a bright yellow suit.
Ncuti Gatwa by Robert Wilson, 2020, National Galleries of Scotland, purchased 2023.

The portrait is an important contribution both visually and contextually. Says Louis, “We want to reflect the diversity of Scotland’s people in our collection and displays. Our portraiture collection focuses not only those who were born here but those who have made an important contribution to Scotland’s place in the world. In Ncuti Gatwa’s case, this also means showcasing the talent that comes out of Scotland’s cultural scene.”

You’ll find the work hanging on the first floor of the Portrait gallery, alongside famous faces including Billy Connolly, Muriel Spark, Joan Eardley, Jackie Kay, Horse McDonald and Nicola Benedetti. All free to visit and enjoy.

To delve further into what the National Galleries of Scotland look for in a new acquisition, we talk to Imogen Gibbon, Co-Director of Collection and Research. She explains, “We look to fill gaps in the collection, complement existing strengths, offer new contexts for our existing artwork holdings and keep pace with new contemporary art. When we decide whether to add an artwork to the collection, we also think about its significance, quality and authenticity, as well as its potential for research and learning.” While Scottish art is a focus, the collection is not limited to work produced within our borders. “Acquisitions are made across several areas, including European and Scottish art, portraiture, modern and contemporary art, and photography, all supported by our extensive library and archive materials.”

The collection as a whole includes over 120,000 objects dating from 1300 to present day – with so many works to draw from, the selection on display at any one time is carefully considered. Says Gibbon, “When we acquire an artwork it permanently belongs to the Scottish public, both now and in the future. We put new acquisitions on display in our Galleries, so that as many visitors as possible can enjoy them.”

Artworks’ accessibility doesn’t end with the physical sites, though. As Gibbon explains, the National Galleries of Scotland’s website is a rich resource of imagery and research. “When we acquire a new artwork, we also catalogue it, photograph it and publish it on our website. This means that anyone, anywhere in the world, can find out about this artwork, do research on it or be inspired by it. That’s what we mean by: ‘Art for Scotland, inspiration for the world.’”

Works can enter the collections through a variety of routes. Says Gibbon, “Sometimes we’re offered works as gifts or purchases by members of the public, or owners might let us know that they intend to leave an artwork to us in their will. We have a process which ensures that we consider each potential acquisition carefully, not only looking at what will be popular.” Visitors to the National on the Mound may be familiar with Callum, a
Dandie Dinmont terrier whose portrait by John Emms is on permanent display. His owner bequeathed £55,000 to the Galleries in 1919, an enormous sum which formed an important trust fund for acquisitions. The bequest had a condition – that Callum’s portrait should always hang in the Galleries, and so there he remains. You can visit him, and the rest of the national collections, for free, any day of the week.

National Galleries Scotland: Portrait, National and Modern. Open daily 10am-5pm Free 
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