Whether you are eating mince pies or latkes over the coming week – I can heartily recommend both – there will come a time, in roughly ten days say, when you may feel the need to put aside the feasts of the festive season and look to more parsimonious fare. Indeed January on the east coast can often feel parsimonious in all senses, from empty wallets to short days and grey, grey skies - the feeling that winter, despite having been on the go for a good month or so, has very much only just got into the swing of things. JMW Turner (1775 - 1851), whose light-infused watercolours will go on display at the National Gallery from New Year's Day for the 120th January in a row, offers the antidote - a cutting through of the fug, a feeding of the soul with works that seem as far removed from the dullness of an Edinburgh January day as that very same January seems from us now.

And Turner's work is synonymous with weather. The architect of light, his approach to the drama of the skies was the diametric opposite of that other great sky painter, Constable. Constable's clouds hang imposing and accurate above his pastoral scenes; Turners encapsulate the movement of every particle of air, of light, of water, his fascination with elemental forces captured in a wash of colour and drama. Turner could and did paint many a grey day, although the dark weight of an unmoving grey sky in January, as we know it, would never have remained that on his canvas, morphing into a deluge, or a forboding vortex of water vapour, the greyness suffused with light. Dreich would only have cut it in a haar.

It was in 1900, the beginning of the last century, that the 38 works by Turner that comprise the Vaughan Bequest first went on display. 1900, when Queen Victoria was still on the throne, when plastic had not yet been invented, nor aeroplanes, nor the NHS, was the first time that Edinburghers – and anyone in range – could view these works, then as now “free of charge” - as stipulated by the reclusive, hugely philanthropic Henry Vaughan (1809 - 1899), who had come into his considerable fortune in 1828, courtesy of his hat manufacturing father.

Vaughan, a traveller, a collector, was lavish in his incredible generosity for the causes he espoused, buying Constable's now iconic The Hay Wain for the National Gallery in London. His concern for education, for bringing art to those who would otherwise never be able to see it, came to the fore in his deathbed bequests of Turner works to both the National Gallery in Edinburgh and that in Dublin, for then, unlike now, Turner's work was largely known in Scotland only to those who were able to travel to London to see it. Vaughan had been inspired by John Ruskin in this regard, who had donated his own collections of Turner drawings to Oxford and Cambridge, again bringing them outside London, if only by some relatively small margin. This bringing of Turner to other centres was doubtless hugely influential, not just on the citizens who were able to see Turner's innovations in landscape painting, but also – not least in Edinburgh - to those who were artists, from William MacTaggart (who apparently walked in from Lasswade to view the exhibition) to FCB Cadell.

Each time that the exhibition reopens in January, one feels that long thread connecting modern-day gallery visitors to those of the past – this is the longest-running single artist exhibition in the world.And no matter how often you have seen them, they are very worth hunting out again, for not only are they supreme examples of Turner at work, from early to late period, they are also in staggeringly good condition, in full due to the fact that Vaughan stipulated they were to be shown only in the darkest month - watercolours being hugely susceptible to light - and the rest of the year kept in a special cabinet to conserve their colour, available to any who wished to study them.

The pictures are like old friends, for those who come every year, although the genius in the artist's brushstrokes, chalk-strokes, is fresh every time - the lightening strike on the Piazzetta in Venice, the Alps in sublime majesty, the yawing geology of Loch Coruisk, the sun blinding the bridge at Heidelberg. Joining them this year is another watercolour on long loan to the gallery from a private collection, “Virginia Water”, a highly finished work from 1829, with King George's opulent barge floating in front of his new Chinese Fishing Temple in the artificial lake and landscape of Windsor Park, a remodelling of nature and architecture that brings in threads from the Vaughan Bequest itself.

Turner in January, National Gallery of Scotland, The Mound, Edinburgh, 0131 624 6200, www.nationalgalleries.org, 1 - 31 Jan 2020, Daily 9am - 5pm

Critic's Choice

Only a few days now until Christmas, and for those who are either a) a little disorganized or b) wanting more art/craft in their life – these two things are far from mutually exclusive - there are many galleries around Scotland now offering some great ideas for Christmas presents, from landscape paintings to jewellery, textiles to pottery. To pick a couple, on Mull, An Tobar has the last 2019 day of its annual open exhibition today, the culmination of a year of programming built around the natural world. Inspired by Olafur Eliasson's The Weather Project at the Tate, “Yellow” brings together works by local artists and craftspeople themed around the title. A showcase for Mull's vibrant community of artists, there is everything from sculpture to jewellery here, including work from Michael Darling, artist and curator of An Tobar itself. The exhibition reopens for the month of February.

In the capital, Edinburgh Ceramics Workshop this week takes up residency above White Stuff on George Street. The second floor space is often home to a craft or design exhibition, and this year it is ceramics that take centre stage, with members of ECW and invited ceramicists, including South Korean potter Jiseon Na who has just completed a six month residency, showing the handmade works that are at the centre of the Workshop's ethos. There are works here that range from functional tableware, thrown on the wheel, to handbuilt forms, decorative rather than functional – something, perhaps, for everyone.

Yellow, An Tobar, Tobermory, Isle of Mull,www.comar.co.uk, 01688 302211, Until today, then 4 - 28 Feb 2020, Tues – Sat 11am – 4pm

Form 19, Second Floor, White Stuff, Princes Street, Edinburgh,www.craftscotland.org Until 22 DecSat, 9.30am – 6pm, Sun 11am - 5pm

Don't Miss

Visual Arts Scotland and the Society of Scottish Artists this year mount a joint Christmas show at the RSA in Edinburgh for those who like their festive kicks a little less prescriptively festive. Amongst some 200 works of contemporary art and craft picked – and do bear in mind that there is much work on sale here too, should you have the wherewithal - from 2,200 submissions from the society's members and those further afield. Ideas are bound up in tapestry, abstract paintings, conceptual installations and sculpture in what should be a fascinating mix of the two societies.

VAS/SSA Open, Royal Scottish Academy, The Mound, Edinburgh,www.visualartsscotland.org 22 Dec – 30 Jan 2020 (closed 25 and 26 Dec) Daily Mon – Sat 10am – 5pm; Sun (and 1stJan 2020) 12pm – 5pm