The National Galleries of Scotland (NGS) has announced that its flagship gallery on the Mound, National, will open its long-awaited, £38m extension to the public on 30 September 2023.
The Scottish National Gallery Project doubles the amount of exhibition space in the William Playfair building for the nation's Scottish art collection, with ten new galleries at the East Princes Street Garden level.
The exhibition spaces will provide a home for Scottish works by the likes of William McTaggart, Anne Redpath, Phoebe Anna Traquair, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Boys. As well as over 130 art works, there will also be art trails and activities.
Director-General of the National Galleries of Scotland, Sir John Leighton, said: “This project has been driven by an ambition to transform the experience of visiting the National and to show the extraordinary collections of Scottish art with pride in beautiful, new, light-filled spaces. We believe that we have created a National Gallery that is more open, engaging and inviting than ever before.”
There will also be five new international hangs at the Mound level this summer, plus two additional Scottish displays, exhibiting over 460 artworks. It includes three areas specifically designed to display drawings and other fragile artworks that will regularly change throughout the year.
The new, free, and fully accessible galleries will be entered via the garden entrance, near Princes Street, with large windows enticing visitors to enter, and capitalising on the historic views of town and garden.
Scotland’s artistic legacy will be brought to life through much-loved Scottish Colourist paintings among other major works from the first half of the twentieth century.
New ways of looking at Scotland’s built and natural environments will be on offer, with early photographs of Scotland’s capital city shown in the same spaces as grand paintings of majestic Highland landscapes.
Reimagined displays of drawings and sketches will celebrate artists such as Glasgow Style pioneer Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh and David Allan, whose depictions of ‘Edinburgh Characters’ will allow visitors to get up close to street life in the Scottish capital in the late eighteenth century.
When NGS announced on 1 May 2014 that Gareth Hoskins Architects would oversee the four year project, it anticipated it being completed in four years.
Almost a decade later, the extension is only now nearing completion, with the price tag having ballooned from £22m in January 2019 to £38m.
Work seemed to be moving quickly once the project got underway in October 2018, when 52 park trees were cut down to allow the embankment outside of the gallery extension to be "reshaped". The felled trees were to be replaced by 22 new trees.
The garden entrance to the gallery re-opened when work finished, in October 2019, with an expanded gallery shop, new café, refurbished restaurant, and large sandstone terrace and landscaping out front.
However, NGS called the construction of the new extension “one of the most complex engineering projects undertaken in a heritage building in Scotland”. It cited difficulties working within the constraints of a World Heritage site, straddling the mainline railway tunnel to Waverley Station and excavating beneath a category-A listed building.
Several issues were discovered when the 1970s building was fully stripped back to its core concrete structure. These included multiple instances of undocumented asbestos deposits which required safe removal; damp and water ingress issues which substantially changed the extent of the waterproofing requirements and undocumented obstructions including remnants from previous developments, which added significant complexity to the building work.
Deeply buried layers of dense concrete had to be extracted, impacting on the sequencing of the works while managing the unique complexity of the engineering works.
The ongoing work has meant that the Playfair Steps, the popular pedestrian through route from Princes Street to the Royal Mile, at the rear of the National, has been closed for years.
Hopefully, the wait will be worth it.
National Gallery Project costs
The final £38.62 million cost was funded by major contributions from the Scottish Government (£15.25m) and The National Lottery Heritage Fund (£6.89 million).
A fundraising campaign raised over £16m thanks to donations from trusts, foundations, Patrons, the NGS Friends organisation, American Patrons and a wide range of private individuals.
Sir John Leighton said: “The strong and unwavering backing from Scottish Government and from The National Lottery Heritage Fund provided a really robust platform for our fundraising efforts and we were delighted by the generous response to this project by so many trusts, foundations and private individuals. We are extremely grateful to all our funders for their incredible support.”
Culture Minister Christina McKelvie said: “The National Galleries of Scotland has the world’s finest collection of Scottish Art and I’m delighted that the new galleries will now have space to show this off to a wide national and international public. We have supported this redevelopment project from the start with a significant contribution of £15.25 million and it’s wonderful to see this will open soon so the public can enjoy these new galleries.”
Chief Executive of The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Eilish McGuinness, said: “We are proud to have been part of the transformation of the National, which has been a source of inspiration and learning for over 150 years and holds a special place in the hearts of the Scottish people, and throughout the UK. Thanks to players of the National Lottery we have supported the project with a £6.89 million grant, from its earliest stages of planning, developing ideas and working with the team in delivering this complex and imaginative project.”