Scottish National Gallery | Which artwork have you missed most?

The Scottish National Gallery has reopened and we are so excited to be able to welcome you back to explore the much-loved artworks of the nation’s exceptional art collection. To celebrate the reopening, we asked a range of contributors - writers, artists, members of the public and Galleries colleagues - for the artwork they are most looking forward to seeing again.

Rembrandt (Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn) Self-portrait 1655. Bridgewater Collection Loan

Self-portrait by Rembrandt (Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn)

In sixth year at school my art teacher Rab Walker would take the class out in a minibus on Fridays. We would pay visits to various galleries in Edinburgh and other cultural sites. On one Friday we asked where we were going and he replied, “to see some old friends.” We ended up at the Scottish National Gallery and I remember looking at the Rembrandt self-portrait (1655). It became a favourite and I now make a point of popping in if I am passing. I guess Rab’s description of “old friends” sums up what certain pictures in the Scottish National Gallery become for many people and how Rembrandt seems to me in his self-portrait.

Calum McClure, artist, Glasgow. Instagram: @calummcclure

Bernardo Butinone Christ Disputing with the Doctors About 1480 - 1490

Christ Disputing with the Doctors (1480-90) by Bernardino Butinone (1435 or 1436-1507)

I love this little painting: beautiful, charming, funny and humane. It depicts a precocious pre-schooler Christ pontificating to his elders and betters, seated atop a sort of spiral throne. Christ is holding a golden orb, resting it on a jauntily raised knee, waving the other hand to make a point to the assembled crowd of learned doctors, who seem increasingly sceptical, right to left.

An obsequious-looking monk in blue is marvelling at his wisdom; figures in the foreground are disputing a point; those behind him have switched off altogether. A long-suffering man in green stands with his arms crossed, expressionless, waiting to escape to the blue sky outside whenever Christ draws breath. Which he has no intention of doing.

Although tiny, the composition of the painting is beautifully resolved, revolving around the central spiral, the conversation rising up to the painted beams above. It’s one of a series, and I’ve always meant to investigate the others, and see Christ progressing on his confident, colourful way, telling it like it is. I’m looking forward to seeing Him again.

Jo Prosser, Edinburgh

Frans Hals Verdonck About 1627

Verdonck (about 1627) by Frans Hals (1580/85-1666)

This painting had always puzzled me, I wanted to know more about why he was posing with a jawbone and what kind of bone it was. To see it in real life again will be a real treat! It’s a smaller piece on the main floor of the Gallery that sometimes gets overlooked by visitors. It conveys such character and a great moustache! When no-one could get a haircut I found this painting a bit more relevant, hair tousled and a bit overgrown, like many on my daily walks.

Shona Corner, Photography & Licensing Manager, National Galleries of Scotland

Scottish School Interior of the National Gallery of Scotland, about 1868 - 1870 About 1868 - 1870

Scottish School, The Interior of the National Gallery of Scotland, about 1867-77

I see this busy late-nineteenth-century image of the National Gallery whenever I switch on my laptop. Not long before Covid-19, the National Galleries updated its computer systems, removing our ability to choose a screensaver from the collection, but allowing us to create a personalised icon. So I did, and this image is me. It is a view into the great central room of the National Gallery during one of the copying days reserved for artists and students. When the Gallery first opened in 1859 Thursdays and Fridays were set aside for artists and students to copy the artworks on show, an important element of art education and practice at that time. And here we see twice the number of women artists, than men, taking up that opportunity. Fascinating.

Tricia Allerston, Deputy Director and Chief Curator of European and Scottish Art, and Co-Director of ‘Celebrating Scotland’s Art’: The Scottish National Gallery Project

Diego Velázquez An Old Woman Cooking Eggs 1618

An Old Woman Cooking Eggs (1618) by Diego Velázquez

I’ve missed the Galleries terribly. Popping into the Scottish National Portrait Gallery on Queen Street for a coffee and a cheese scone, accompanied by Sandy Moffat’s gorgeous painting of Muriel Spark is a regular treat never again to be taken for granted. Equally, visiting Modern One in Belford Road, entering beneath Martin Creed’s reassuring/unnerving statement that ‘Everything Is Going To Be Alright ’and then going upstairs to revisit old friends like Matisse’s La Leçon de peinture.

But the artwork that I’ve loved longest is the splendid oil painting by Diego Velázquez in the main Scottish National Gallery at the foot of The Mound. I must have seen it hundreds of times since childhood but I’m no less intrigued by the relationship between old woman and boy. Are they related? Do they just work together? Is that an easy or sullen silence between them? In this depiction of everyday lives and everyday objects in seventeenth century Seville, there’s atmosphere and mystery hanging over the lives of humble, working class people who are given artistic dignity, rare at the time. And there’s Velázquez' wonderful mastery of chiaroscuro: the captivating light glinting across scarf, collar, jug, eggs and gently illuminating faces against a darkened background. It’s impossible to walk past this piece with any nonchalance and it’s the one I’ll be marching towards first.

Edi Stark, Radio Producer and Presenter, BBC Radio Scotland Stark Talk

William Hogarth Sarah Malcolm (died 1733) 1733

Sarah Malcolm (died 1733) by William Hogarth (1697-1764)

When visiting the Scottish National Gallery I’m always drawn to the tiny, inconspicuous painting, ‘Sarah Malcolm (died 1733) ’by William Hogarth. At first glance it looks like a mundane domestic scene, but in truth it’s a portrait of a young woman days away from her execution for a triple murder. Hogarth published numerous copies of the portrait for the morbidly-curious public, who couldn’t get enough of the celebrity murderess. The painting stops me every time, bidding me to consider the murders, Sarah’s guilt (or innocence) and the fact that her tragic story was just as compelling to people then as it would be if it happened today.

Emily Margaret, visual artist and designer, Edinburgh

James Drummond The Porteous Mob 1855

The Porteous Mob (1855) by James Drummond (1816-1877)

It's kicking off! … and I can’t wait to be there … Right now, there is chaos at the heart of the classical temple that is the Scottish National Gallery, in the painting of a riot that sparks and burns in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket in 1736. It is the infamous Porteous Mob which is unleashed in this painting; the masked citizens of ‘the lower classes’, taking things into their own hands to restore ‘justice’. I need its electric buzz now, more than ever, when the world is out on the streets and transforming before our eyes.

Robin Baillie, Senior Outreach Officer, National Galleries of Scotland

26 August 2020