Hidden Histories

  • Paintings, sculpture, miniature
    30 min
    5 works
  • Devised in collaboration with Disability History Scotland, this trail will help you discover more about the achievements, passions and adventures of a selection of disabled people.

Scottish National Portrait Gallery / Ground floor

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Portrait Ground floor
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    Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850 - 1894. Essayist, poet and novelist, by David Watson Stevenson

    Rather than towing the family line, Robert Louis Stevenson plumped for the passionate life of an artist. As a young man he contracted a respiratory illness which later developed into Tuberculosis. He decided to become a writer and went abroad to escape damp Scottish climes, documenting his impressions in travel accounts before eventually settling in Samoa. Distance from mainstream Victorian society allowed him to lead an unconventional, adventurous life and explore ideas of normality, deviation and constraint, most famously represented by the split personalities of Jekyll and Hyde.

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    Location: Scottish National Portrait Gallery / Ground floor / Great Hall

Scottish National Portrait Gallery / First floor

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Portrait First floor
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    Sarah Biffin, Mrs E.M. Wright, 1784 - 1850. Artist (Self-portrait)

    Artist Sarah Biffin was born without hands or feet and taught herself to sew and paint using her mouth. She came from a farming family, but embarked upon an artistic career as a teenager when she was contracted to a traveling showman to be exhibited as a freak and a genius. In this employment Sarah was able to devote herself to her artistic practice and exhibit her work. Her talent as a miniature painter became widely recognised and royal commissions made her famous, with several mentions in the novels of Charles Dickens.

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    Location: Scottish National Portrait Gallery / First floor / The library - Display cabinet 1

Scottish National Portrait Gallery / Second floor

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Portrait Second floor
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    Tom Derry, fl. 1614. Jester to Anne of Denmark, by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger

    Tom Derry was a jester and would have been known as a ‘natural fool’ as he had learning difficulties. His role was to lighten the mood at Anne of Denmark’s court through comic performances. As his opulent appearance suggests, he was very successful and became a favourite In the Queen’s household, keeping his own servants and having his portrait painted by two of the Queen’s favourite artists. Anne was a flamboyant woman, interested in the arts and especially in theatre and role-play. She trod the boards herself; a scandalous and subversive move at the time – and perhaps it was on this common ground that their friendship flourished.

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    Location: Scottish National Portrait Gallery / Second floor / Gallery 1

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    George III, 1738 - 1820. Reigned 1760 - 1820, by Allan Ramsay

    During George III’s rule, Britain lost its American colonies but emerged as a leading power in Europe. As a patron of the artist Allan Ramsay, George played a pivotal role in the artist’s career and also founded the Royal Academy of Arts. He experienced mental health problems throughout his reign and lost his sight and hearing later in life. His aides attempted to hide his illness and he was nursed in isolation, but in 1911, The Regency Act passed many responsibilities to his son. Nevertheless, the life and reign of George III is the longest of any British King.

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    Location: Scottish National Portrait Gallery / Second floor / Gallery 5

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    Sir Alexander Morison, 1779 - 1866. Alienist, by Richard Dadd

    Sir Alexander Morison was a pioneering psychiatrist and asylum reformer who championed the need for specialist training for doctors working in mental health. He believed that facial expression could reveal a patient’s underlying mental condition, however in this portrait it is the doctor’s face under examination and the patient making the observations. Alexander met the artist Richard Dadd at Bethlem Hospital. Richard had a psychotic illness, but was given the generalised label ‘insane’. Having murdered his father when he was a young man, he spent most of his life incarcerated. Doctors and fellow patients were his only audience, yet he became a great and influential artist.

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    Location: Scottish National Portrait Gallery / Second floor / Gallery 7

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