Our history

Our history



On 30 August, Prince Albert lays the foundation stone of the National Gallery, giving a moving speech in which he hails the William Henry Playfair-designed building as a "temple erected to the Fine Arts". The building will stand next to the Royal Scottish Academy Building (then the Royal Institution), also designed by Playfair and headquarters for the Board of Manufacturers since 1822.


William Henry Playfair dies on 19 March.

Sir David Young Cameron, The Royal Scottish Academy Building and the National Gallery of Scotland, (1916)


An evening reception on 24 March heralds the completion and opening to the public of the National Gallery of Scotland. The building is shared by the National Gallery and the Royal Scottish Academy.


The National Gallery's collection of pictures, as well as public and political appetite for a permanent record of Scots achievement, grows to such an extent that the Scottish National Portrait Gallery is founded. Much of the campaigning and fundraising is undertaken by the local newspaper proprietor, John Ritchie Findlay.


The Scottish National Portrait Gallery opens to the public.

Thomas Crawford Hamilton, Scottish National Portrait Gallery; interior view, (1890)
Thomas Crawford Hamilton, Scottish National Portrait Gallery; interior and exterior views, (Drawn 1890)


The National Galleries of Scotland Act, of 21 December 1906, specifies a change of use for the buildings on The Mound. Lack of space to accommodate the collection encourages the State to allow the National Gallery to inhabit the whole of the National Gallery building, offering the Royal Scottish Academy indefinite tenancy of the building in front (then the Royal Institution). This building then becomes known as the Royal Scottish Academy.


Newly refurbished National Gallery re-opens.


At the end of the Second World War, the Duke of Sutherland loans a phenomenal collection of paintings to the National Gallery, including five Titians, two Raphaels and a Rembrandt self-portrait. Their former home, the picture gallery of Bridgewater House in London, has been severely damaged by German bombing during the war.


The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is founded and opened to the public in August at Inverleith House in Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Garden. All but a few of the National Gallery's paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings dating from after 1900 are moved to the new location. The vast majority of objects in the gallery’s collection today, however, were acquired after 1960.


Five new small galleries at the south end of the National Gallery are created by building an upper floor. The space is in part created to house the great Maitland collection of French late nineteenth and early twentieth century paintings.

Today impressionist artworks can be found in this wing including paintings by Degas, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Van Gogh, and others. 


A further suite of galleries is opened, this time beneath the ground floor of the south end of the National Gallery, to house the Gallery's Scottish Collection and also provide room for facilities such as a Print Room, Library and Picture Store.


As the collection of modern art multiplies, the Gallery of Modern Art moves to a new location at Belford Road, the former John Watson's School.


The Dean Gallery (now Modern Two) opens, a magnificent building (originally an orphanage designed in 1831 by Thomas Hamilton) opposite the Gallery of Modern Art. The Gallery is used to house the generous gift by the Edinburgh-born sculptor Sir Eduardo Paolozzi of a large collection of his work. The new gallery also showcases the National Galleries’ superb Dada and Surrealism collection, as well as providing space for temporary exhibitions.


The front lawn of the Gallery of Modern Art is dramatically transformed by Charles Jencks’s sculpture Landform Ueda. The sculpture comprises a stepped, serpentine-shaped mound reflected in three crescent-shaped pools of water.

Thomas Hamilton, Design for the Dean Orphanage, Edinburgh, (About 1830)
Charles Jencks, Landform, (2001)


Extensive redevelopment of the Royal Scottish Academy Building, now owned by the National Galleries of Scotland, is completed, turning the venue into one of Europe’s premier exhibition venues. Its first exhibition in the newly developed space, Monet: The Seine and the Sea, attracts record visitors of over 170,000.


The Gallery of Modern Art wins the Gulbenkian Prize for Museum of the Year for its Landform Ueda.

The second phase of works on The Mound is completed through the creation of an underground link – overlooking Princes Street Gardens – that connects the National Gallery and the Royal Scottish Academy Building. The new space provides state-of-the-art visitor facilities: education suites, a new restaurant and café, a lecture theatre/cinema and an IT Gallery.


The National Galleries holds its biggest-ever contemporary art show, consisting of ten sculptures by Ron Mueck. The exhibition attracts 130,000 visitors.


National Galleries of Scotland, in partnership with Tate, launches ARTIST ROOMS, a modern and contemporary art collection established through the generosity of Anthony and Anne d’Offay.  It quickly becomes the cornerstone of a major national touring programme, with 7.5m people viewing ARTIST ROOMS works across the UK in its first year of operation.


With the assistance of the Scottish Government, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Monument Trust, The Art Fund, and from members of the public, NGS secures the purchase of Titian’s Diana and Actaeon for £50m.  The purchase ensures that the remainder of the Bridgewater Loan will remain on public view in Edinburgh for a further 21 years.  


Following major redevelopment, the Portrait Gallery re-opens to the public in December 2011.  It is restored to its former glory, including first class visitor facilities, a larger café and magnificent galleries to house the collection.  Public space is increased by 60%.