Going global: How High-Steppers travelled the world

Walter Richard Sickert's painting High-Steppers shows the Plaza Tiller Girls, a dance troupe who performed at the Plaza cinema in Piccadilly, entertaining the audience before the start of the film. This work was purchased by the National Galleries of Scotland in 1979 and since then the work has led a high flying life fit for the glamorous dancers it depicts.

Between 1981 and 1992 the work appeared in three exhibitions in London, once at the Hayward Gallery and twice at the Royal Academy. Perhaps some of the audiences viewing this work in London remembered seeing the dancers themselves 50 years earlier.

In 1990 the work was part of a touring exhibition which was shown in Manchester, the Barbican in London and Glasgow City Art Gallery. In 1998 it was off to Madrid and Bilbao where it featured in an exhibition examining the work of Whistler and Sickert.

In 2009 it was a key work in an exhibition, Dance, curated by the National Galleries of Scotland which toured first to the Laing Gallery in Newcastle, then to our partner gallery Duff House in Banff before being returning to be exhibited at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh.

The painting featured on the poster for the 2010 exhibition Dance.
High-steppers returned to Scotland and was displayed as part of our 2018 exhibition, Pin-Ups: Toulouse-Lautrec and the Art of Celebrity.

In 2012, this work travelled to the far side of the world to Auckland Art Gallery as part of a touring exhibition, Degas to Dalí: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland. 

It returned to Scotland and was displayed as part of our 2018 exhibition Pin-Ups: Toulouse-Lautrec and the Art of Celebrity.

Degas to Dalí (installation view), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2012. Photo courtesy Auckland Art Gallery.


Moving a work of this size (1.5m x 1.4m) round the world requires a team of staff who ensure the safety of the work. Loan requests are carefully considered, conservators carry out initial assessments to decide if the work if stable enough to travel, conservation technicians then refit and glaze the work if required, the frame is carefully measured and registrars submit orders for bespoke transport cases which will protect the work in transit from any shocks or changes in the environment. 

Loan agreements are negotiated, insurances agreed and a final written condition report is done. Art handling technicians pack the loan and it’s ready to go. The work then leaves on specialist fine art transport with a member of staff as courier all the way to its final destination. The courier will oversee the work safely installed with the borrowing institution and return home.

Then a few months later the whole journey is carried out in reverse.

The journey of this one work is replicated annually many times over. In the 2017-18 year National Galleries of Scotland loaned 543 works to exhibitions at 82 different venues across the world, from Dumfries to Dusseldorf, Milngavie to Mexico City and Kilmarnock to Kyoto. These works were seen by over 7.5 million visitors worldwide, showcasing the world class collections of the National Galleries of Scotland internationally.

By Jacqui Austin, Lead Registrar (Loans, Touring and Partnerships), 22 October 2018