Thursday, February 1, 2024

Edinburgh and the Joy of Phoebe Anna Traquair

It's hard to believe a whole week has passed since a very satisfying, if flying, visit to Edinburgh. It's a city I have a slightly love hate relationship with. It's very beautiful but the center, specifically Princes Street and the Royal Mile are over touristy and dilapidated these days. The best thing about Edinburgh for me used to be Waverly station being very much in the middle of everything which made it great for day trips, but the middle I want to be in has shifted and I'm not sure where it's gone now.

Fortunately this time around we wanted to go and see the new Scottish galleries at the National Galleries of Scotland (that's a mouthful to say). There are a lot of things I love in that collection and I've missed it whilst the refurb/move has been going on. How best to tell the story of Scottish art is a tricky proposition. Do you separate it out, or keep it in the context of international movements? They do both in Edinburgh so it's worth making sure you have plenty of time to explore at leisure.

I liked the new galleries, particularly the windows looking down Princes Street gardens with the city views in between them echoing what you could see from the windows. I loved the lighting which was so much better than in Glasgow's Hunterian - in Edinburgh, you can actually see the paintings. The use of the space is excellent as well and it's a pleasant environment to find yourself in. I thought there could have been more context and more information along with the pictures - but when we went to visit some other old favourites we found the context at least. 

Not all the Scottish art is in the Scottish galleries. There's a good sprinkling of it in the other exhibition halls and it's good to see where it sits in the overall canon of Western art. We also went along to the Open Eye Gallery and the Scottish Gallery to see more contemporary things - lots of Elizabeth Blackadder, and a couple of James Morrisons to add to the lottery win wish list, along with artists I can aspire to collect. I recommend both for their welcoming attitude towards browsers and beautiful interiors.

The thing I was most excited to see again in the National was Phoebe Anna Traquair's life-size embroidered panels of the Progress of a Soul. Traquair hasn't had the attention she deserves, these panels are amazing as both art and craft, they're also only a fraction of her range - look her up. It was fabulous to see them in a space they look really comfortable in and there's a lavishly illustrated book about her and her work by Elizabeth Cumming which I've just picked up from work today. I'm also pushing Duncan Macmillan's 'Scotland and the Origins of Modern Art' right up my TBR pile - so altogether an inspiring day. 

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