It has been created to showcase the “world’s greatest collection” of Scottish art and bring a wealth of iconic paintings and images to visitors - free of charge.

More than a century of Scottish masterpieces will to go on show as new galleries in the revamped National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh open their doors for the first time this weekend.

Five years past their due date, and many millions over the original budget, the National’s Scottish galleries will have been built to showcase the best of the country’s art from 1800 to 1945.

The project has seen 12 new display spaces carved out of the National’s basement, housing works by artists such as William McTaggart, Anne Redpath, Phoebe Anna Traquair, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Boys.

More than doubling the physical display area, the new Scottish galleries have been designed to bring the nation’s artistic heritage to life – from much-loved Scottish Colourists as well as major works from the first half of the twentieth century to stellar works from the early 1800s onwards.

New ways of looking at Scotland’s natural and built 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, including works such as Landseer’s The Monarch of the Glen.

The Herald: The Monarch of the Glen

Reimagined displays of drawings and sketches will celebrate artists such as Glasgow Style pioneer Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh and Alloa-born 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. 

The expansion of the Scottish galleries began with a plan to expand the gallery into the 70s office space alongside the basement, extending out into Princes Street Gardens, and five metres (16ft) over the railway line.

Planning permission was granted in August 2016 but having failed to reach agreement, the project had to be reworked and relaunched in 2018, when it was estimated to cost £22m.

The first phase was successfully completed in 2019 with a new entrance in Princes Street Gardens, a terrace and landscaping, and a café and shop.

But when work began on the other end of the building engineers encountered problems such as undocumented asbestos, obstructions from previous developments, and deeply buried layers of dense concrete which required removal.

The Covid pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis pushed costs higher. In the end, the project cost more than £38m - including £16m from a fundraising campaign.

The Herald: The construction phase took years 

Sir John Leighton, Director-General of the National Galleries of Scotland said that the new galleries project had achieved its aims.

He said: “With this project we set out to transform the experience of visiting the National and to show the world’s greatest collection of Scottish art with real pride and ambition.

“With the new Scottish galleries at the National, we have achieved these aims and more. The gallery is more accessible than ever before and there is a stunning new display of 150 years of Scottish art in all its richness and depth.

“From this Saturday, everyone is welcome to discover a brilliant new experience, free, in the heart of our nation’s capital.”

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The new galleries are easier to access, through a path in east Princes Street Gardens, while new lifts, a partial changing place facility, accessible entrance, accessible toilets and a pram store have been installed.

The new Scottish galleries at the National also includes three new areas specifically designed to display drawings and other fragile artworks, which will change regularly throughout the year.

The Herald: More than a century's worth of art will be on show 

The total cost of the project has been funded by contributions from the Scottish Government (£15.25m) and The National Lottery Heritage Fund (£6.89 million).

A fundraising campaign raised over £16m through donations from trusts, foundations, Patrons, the National Galleries of Scotland’s Friends organisation, American Patrons and a wide range of private individuals.

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Culture Secretary Angus Robertson 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 showcase this to a national and international audience.  

“We have supported this redevelopment project from the start with a significant contribution of £15.25 million and it’s wonderful to see the new galleries open, allowing everyone to enjoy them.”

The Herald:

Caroline Clark, The National Lottery Heritage Fund Director for Scotland added: “National Galleries of Scotland have created a truly world-class facility showcasing Scotland’s distinctive and internationally important artistic heritage.

“This iconic building at the heart of Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site is safeguarded for the future, creating a focus for our cultural and economic renewal.  

“We are proud and excited to welcome the world to Edinburgh to enjoy the new galleries. We believe heritage helps us to understand who we are and where we are from; and so, we join with the National Galleries of Scotland in declaring this is a place for the people of Scotland.”