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  • K
  • George Meikle Kemp
The Royal Institution, Edinburgh (now the Royal Scottish Academy)

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The Royal Institution, Edinburgh (now the Royal Scottish Academy) 1837 - 1839

Not on display

  • Scottish Art
This highly finished watercolour shows the northern elevation of the Royal Institution, designed by the architect William Henry Playfair. In this picture, Kemp presented the huge structure bathed in a golden light, as befits a temple to the arts. The new building sits comfortably against the backdrop of Edinburgh Castle, and displays Playfair's awareness of the compositional consequences of his designs. The Egyptian sphinxes on the roof above the portico were designed by John Steell, and installed in 1837. This watercolour dates from before 1844, when Steell's massive statue of Queen Victoria as Britannia was installed above the pediment of the front portico.

Glossary Open


The external face of a building, usually referring to the most important, such as that facing the street or containing the main entrance.


In classical architecture, pediments are broad triangular or segmental gables surmounting a colonnade or portico as the major part of a façade. They are often embellished with sculpture.


A covered entrance to a large building.

Royal Institution

Founded in Edinburgh in 1819, the Royal Institution for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts in Scotland was a privately funded and largely aristocratic body, modelled on the British Institution in London. The Royal Institution (RI) initially staged exhibitions of Old Master paintings, but from 1821 to 1830 it also mounted contemporary exhibitions to stimulate patronage for modern Scottish art. The RI’s fifth exhibition occupied a new building dedicated to the arts on The Mound. This building, originally named the Royal Institution, was shared with other bodies and learned societies. It is now called the Royal Scottish Academy building. In the 1820s the RI began to form a national collection of paintings, most of which was later housed in the adjacent National Gallery of Scotland.

Royal Scottish Academy

The Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) was formed in Edinburgh in 1826 by Scottish artists who felt alienated by what they perceived as the elitism of the Royal Institution and its management of contemporary art exhibitions. In 1835, the RSA secured exhibition rights in the Royal Institution building, which had been erected on The Mound by the Board of Manufactures in 1826. The RSA and the Board frequently argued over responsibilities for advanced art education. From 1859, the RSA shared the premises of the new National Gallery of Scotland under the Board’s custody. In 1910, after transferring most of its art collections to the Gallery, the RSA gained exclusive tenancy of the former Royal Institution building, where it continues to hold large-scale annual exhibitions.

Façade, Pediment, Portico, Royal Institution, Royal Scottish Academy


  • Acc. No. D 4264
  • Medium Watercolour and bodycolour over pen and pencil on paper, laid down
  • Size 31.30 x 44.90 cm
  • Credit Purchased 1946