The Herald was yesterday given a tour of the institution in Edinburgh’s New Town, which is currently a building site as new gallery spaces are opened up, a Victorian library is moved from one room to another, acres of new display space is revealed and the entire contents of the gallery are rethought and revamped.
The distinctive central hall of the gallery, which will reopen, much changed, to the public in late 2011, has a large mural or frieze painted by William Hole in 1889, showing key figures from Scottish history, and the galleries are “selling” them off for potential sponsors, who will have the honour of their name associated with the figure.
The more notable the figure, the higher the price -- so while some obscure historical figures can be sponsored for £2000, Mary, Queen of Scots, remained unsold at £20,000, as is Bonnie Prince Charlie, although John Knox has found an anonymous backer.
So far, 50 of the 150 figures in the frieze have been sponsored, and the National Galleries of Scotland, of which the portrait gallery is a part, is also looking for individual sponsors for the more than 200 stars painted on the ceiling of the central hall.
“It looks like we are on target and on time, we have two years to raise that final £2m,” John Leighton, the director-general of the NGS, said yesterday.
He added that the galleries had considered changing the title of the gallery, but decided to stick with its traditional name.
“This is a good time to have a glimpse inside the gallery because we are just over half way,” he added. “Most of the major construction has been done, the gunk [of accumulated changes to its fabric] has been stripped out and we are opening things up and putting things in.
“We were occupying 50% of the building, with the rest of it essentially lying fallow -- now we are opening up some of the finest gallery spaces in Scotland.”
Changes include the relocation of its Victorian library, a traditional reading room from 1890 that will now be open to the public, the addition of glass roofs, as originally built, for the west end of the building, a 40-person lift with glass sides, a new cafe area, a mezzanine for the ground floor, and 50% more gallery space in the east end of the gallery.
There will also be the first gallery space dedicated to displaying Scottish photography, which can show 70 to 80 works, although there are 40,000 works in the collection.
Mr Leighton said: “It is quite a generous space and we are planning on three exhibitions a year. It will be an important addition, and it is good to start with the first of its kind.”
James Holloway, director of the portrait gallery, said that after the reopening, it has been estimated that visitor numbers will rise from 200,000 a year to 300,000, but he thinks that is a modest projection.
The gallery’s most famous portraits, such as that of Robert Burns by Alexander Nasmyth, will remain displayed, but major works will move around the gallery as its displays change over time.
The entire project has been costed at £17.6m, with £5m coming from the Scottish Government, another £5m from the Heritage Lottery Fund, with the rest of the balance being raised by the National Galleries. Of the final £7.6m, £5.5m has been raised, with £2m more needed by the end of 2012.
Stars and old faces at a price
How the Scottish National Portrait Gallery is raising funds:
Gallery of Stars: From £250 to £750, depending on the size of the star, in the ceiling design of the gallery’s Great Hall, which features the sign of the zodiac in 30 panels. There are 230 stars to be sponsored. In recognition, the sponsor receives a certificate with the position of their star. The name and star will also be recorded in the newly reopened National Portrait Gallery and on its website.
Sponsor a character from William Hole’s 1889 frieze.
Mary Queen of Scots: £20,000
Macbeth, Lady Macbeth: £20,000.
Stone age character: £2000.
Bronze age character: £2000.