Queer & here | Celebrating Queer Lives & Art

LGBTQ+ artists have always existed, but art histories have predominately been told from a perspective that often suppressed their identities.

Queer art often challenges the heterosexual status quo and expresses self-identity. It can either be overt, or coded through symbols, inviting the viewer to dig a little deeper to find the hidden meaning. Queer art is not always about pushing an activist-style agenda; it is very often celebratory, tender and deeply personal.

Originally used as a homophobic slur, the word ‘queer’ has been redefined, reclaimed and celebrated by some members of the LGBTQ+ community. By adopting this term, the queer community challenges a history of prejudice and discrimination and looks to a more positive, proud association with the word.

Pride 2024

To celebrate Pride month we are spotlighting the vibrant and diverse LGBTQ+ community. Throughout the month of June we will be sharing works of art that showcase love, equality, and acceptance.

Join us on our social channels where we will be looking at a selection of artworks on display through the eyes of surrealist, socialist, socialite of Edinburgh drag, Mystika Glamoor. Mystika will explore the portrait of Horse McDonald and our new portrait of Ncuti Gatwa at the Portrait gallery. 

Artwork of the week

Each week colleagues at National Galleries of Scotland choose one of their favourite artworks and describe what it means to them. This week Rachel Howarth has chosen Dr Elsie Maud Inglis by Ivan Meštrović.

Ivan Meštrović Dr Elsie Maud Inglis, 1864 - 1917. Physician and surgeon 1918 © The Estate of the Artist

In the Portrait Gallery Great Hall, behind the towering statue of Robert Burns, sits an innocuous bust of Dr Elise Maud Inglis quietly reading within the archway of a stained-glass window. Her small frame, passive and contemplative pose suggest that she led a quiet and ordinary life. However, quite the opposite is true, she led an extraordinary life devoted to improving the medical field, and medical treatment, for women. Within her lifetime, she founded the Edinburgh Medical College for Women (1889) and a maternity hospital staffed entirely by women (1894), organised all-women ambulance units during WWI, and established three military hospitals during the war. She also lived with and was in a relationship for some time with fellow doctor and suffragette Flora Murray. She was a queer woman doctor at a time when those first two identifiers were antithetical to the latter. It is a shame that Ivan Meštrović’s sculpture does not portray Inglis’ strong and ambitious character. I only wish I could take some of the bronze from Inglis’ book and use it to fill out her shoulders a bit more, allowing her to take up the space she deserves.

Explore more LGBTQ+ stories

Explore more LGBTQ+ stories

Not Seeing Straight: Celebrating Queer Art

Queer Lives & Art: Found Families

Queer Lives & Art: books and belonging with Lavender Menace

Not Seeing Straight Film Series Trailer

In this new series of three films, Not Seeing Straight: Celebrating Queer Art and Lives, we explore queer artists and their artworks.

Watch all the films in this series to explore the visual symbols and language they used in their work.

Watch now

Queer Art

Queer Art

There are many LGBTQ+ artists and people represented in our collection and archives. Here we bring them together to celebrate queer lives and art.

Jackie Kay

Jackie Kay, a lesbian, was Scots Makar (Scotland’s National Poet) from March 2016 to March 2021. Her debut collection of poems, The Adoption Papers (1991), tells the story of the adoption of a black girl by white parents through the voices of a birth mother, an adoptive mother and an adopted child.

Alan Cumming

Alan Cumming is a renowned gay Scottish actor who enjoys an international reputation. Cumming has appeared to critical acclaim in numerous films, television programmes and plays in Scotland, London and New York.

Robert Mapplethorpe

The American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe became famous, not to say, notorious, in the 1970s and 1980s for his photographs of the male nude and sexually explicit, gay imagery.

Horse McDonald

Horse is one of Scotland’s most celebrated singers. She is a lesbian icon to many, and Roxana Hall’s portrait of her is a vibrant painting that encapsulates the fun the artist and sitter had together.

Gilbert & George

British artist-duo Gilbert and George are known for their distinctively bright work. Their relationship is both an artistic and personal one. The two first met in 1967, saying 'it was love at first sight'. They married in 2008.


The founder of the Czech Surrealist Group, Toyen (born Marie Čermínová), adopted their gender-neutral name in early adulthood almost a century ago. The artist also dressed in men’s clothes and through their ambiguously gendered self-presentation, Toyen may very well have identified as gender-fluid in the twenty-first century.

30 May 2023