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Princes Street with the Commencement of the Building of the Royal Institution

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Princes Street with the Commencement of the Building of the Royal Institution 1825

Not on display

  • Scottish Art
This grand panorama combines Nasmyth's atmospheric treatment of the sky and distant features with great topographical accuracy. The view of Princes Street looking east contrasts the New Town buildings on the left with the Old Town on the right, crowned by the distinctive open spire of St Giles Cathedral. In the distance, Arthur's Seat and The Nelson Monument on Calton Hill punctuate the skyline. One of Edinburgh's finest buildings devoted to the arts is under construction in the foreground. The Royal Institution, later home to the Royal Scottish Academy, was designed by William Henry Playfair and opened in 1826. Now known as the Royal Scottish Academy Building, it is owned and administered by the National Galleries of Scotland and is the city's main exhibition venue.

Glossary Open

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.


Refers to landscape pictures that faithfully represent a real place as it is seen rather than an imaginary or distorted landscape.

Royal Institution, Royal Scottish Academy, Topographical


  • Acc. No. NG 2542
  • Medium Oil on canvas
  • Size 122.50 x 165.50 cm; Painted area: 120.50 x 163.50 cm (framed: 154.94 x 197.49 x 15.88 cm)
  • Credit Presented by Sir David Baird 1991