Sarah Urwin Jones

Festival season may not be the same this year, but there are skeins of festival everywhere in Edinburgh from the giant Hello flags fluttering from the city's flagpoles to the International Festival's televised “opening” night event and the Book Festival's online author talks. There are even, if you know where to look, festival shows, as if the ghost of what was meant to be. So it is at the Scottish Gallery, or Aitken Dott when it was founded in 1842, which has decided to burst out of lockdown in style and put on its pre-planned Art Festival show – by appointment only, in these times – along with an online series of short artist talks and events, a celebratory microcosm of what might have been, city-wide.

It is, of course, easier to do this as a commercial gallery, essentially a retail establishment which will make money from the art on display rather than rely on public funding. But The Scottish Gallery also have a fine historic pedigree of artists, as shown in this all-female take on their Modern Masters series, showcasing the artists whom they have exhibited in the past century or so. There are the usual enticing big mid-century names here, for those who've saved up their pennies during lockdown, from Joan Eardley to Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, and all the better for it, alongside far less well known ones too.

That, indeed, is the crux of this show, that women artists over the centuries have been historically ignored, dismissed as amateurs, allowed their tilt at the art world, much as the rare few who made it as composers were, until they were married off and into obscurity. Until the 20th century, it was a rare women who could, financially or socially, fend off a prospective husband for the sake of her art, much less her personal inclinations.

But, as the Scottish Gallery is keen to point out, not everyone in the art world ignored or belittled women artists, although it was an institutional trait, from art schools to the galleries themselves. The Scottish Gallery's own books show their first female exhibitor in 1903, landscape painter Mary G.W. Wilson, although there may have been others, and whilst no-one emerges unblemished from the 19th and 20th centuries, there is a formidable list here.

There is “A Wave”, a superb energy-filled oil from Joan Eardley in her Catterline period, painted on board in the heart of a storm one anonymous night in Catterline. Here too, elements of the cityscape in pastels from her time in Glasgow, typical of her distinctive blocking and smudging of colour.

Catterline appears again in the work of Lilian Neilson, who joined Joan Eardley in her studio in the small Aberdeenshire village and stayed after her friend's death; and then there are the quiet, reflective seascapes of Hannah Mooney, a recent graduate of Glasgow School of Art and perhaps the youngest artist in the exhibition.

Elsewhere, the industrial bridgescapes of Kate Downie, the idiosyncratic visions of Pat Douthwaite and her female forms, the trees and reflective studies of Victoria Crowe. Wilhelmina Barnes-Graham, whose modernist output evolved throughout her lifetime, is represented here with an early St. Ives oil, and the later and ongoing abstractions, geometries and forms that would define her career.

On, again, to the ink wash drawings, pastel cats and distinctive botanical watercolours of Elizabeth Blackadder, the vitality and humour of the watercolours and prints of Emily Sutton's still lives, the elegant observation of Angie Lewin. There are works from Barbara Balmer, Anne Redpath, Bet Low, Frances Walker, Mardi Barrie, and many more recent, some to discover, some to rediscover, some to meet in online zoom chats, or hear discussed in the substantial series of 10 minute online lectures.

This exhibition is, of course, the view from one gallery, and has no pretensions to being a thorough survey, but it is no less interesting for that. The figures and stories of the artists behind many of these works, particularly those of the mid-century, are the interest here, artists working in an environment where women still did not hold equal footing with men in society, yet triumphed artistically in spite of this, even if those triumphs were not, in many cases, recognised until much later in – or after – life. In this sense, too, there wasn't really a need to qualify the title of the exhibition, which somehow makes it seem an adjunct to a male series, and the exact opposite of the intention. Masters will do.

Modern Masters Women, The Scottish Galllery, 16 Dundas Street, Edinburgh, 0131 558 1200, Until 29 Aug,

Tues-Fri, 10am-6pm (by appointment only); Sat, 11am-1pm (walk-ins welcome)