When we went to see the pandas at Edinburgh Zoo the other week the bus passed this incredible piece of Gothic Revival architecture.
This is the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh’s Queen Street. The photograph doesn’t really do it justice, but short of standing in the traffic I wasn’t going to get much better. The building was designed by the Scottish architect Robert Rowland Anderson, who was trained by the great George Gilbert Scott and built between 1885 and 1890. It was built specifically to house the collection of portraits founded by David Erskine the 11th Earl of Buchan and as such was the first custom-built national museum of portraiture. London’s National Portrait Gallery was founded earlier (I worked on Royal Mail’s 150th anniversary stamp products back in 2006), but didn’t move into its current location until 1896.
It is a bit of a wow moment when you step into the atrium.
The processional frieze below the balcony is by the English painter William Hole and depicts important Scots from Saint Ninian to Robert Burns and David Livingstone. The collection has lots of portraits of famous Jacobites like Bonnie Prince Charlie and Flora Macdonald as well as Kings, Queens and other worthies. Notable portraits include Raeburn’s Walter Scott and Nasmyth’s Robert Burns. Unfortunately the contemporary gallery is presently being rehung, so the only modern Scot on view John Bellany’s portrait of Billy Connolly.
We found the portrait of another famous Scot at the bottom of Queen Street.
Hanging over the entrance to The Conan Doyle pub. The Conan Doyle has had a bit of a facelift since I last visited and the exterior is now a smart black rather than green. Inside it’s still packed with Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes memorabilia. The pub is just of Picardy Place, where in 1859, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born at number 55. Number 55 is no longer there , but I had a lovely pint of Belhaven stout, drawn from a hand-pump. It was better than Guinness, with no CO2 artificial fizz.