Come and visit our new collection website, featuring over 90,000 new object records and 35,000 newly digitised artworks

50 interesting facts about the Gallery

1. Efforts to establish a Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh date back to the early part of the twentieth century. The proposals came in particular from the National Galleries of Scotland (the National Gallery and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery). Ideas included housing the new Gallery opposite the Portrait Gallery on Queen Street, and under the National Gallery on the Mound, with the sculpture collection spilling out into Princes Street Gardens

2. The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art opened on 10 August 1960, in Inverleith House, in Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens. Kenneth Clark, one of the most recognised art historians of the time, opened the Gallery.

  • Old Gallery of Modern Art brochure cover Old Gallery of Modern Art brochure cover, by unknown
  • Inverleith House interior Inverleith House interior, by unknown

3. Before the Gallery of Modern Art opened, its parent body, the National Gallery of Scotland, would not collect work by living artists – there was an unspoken rule that an artist had to have been dead for 10 years before his or her work could enter the Gallery. This “rule” was occasionally broken, particularly when gifts were offered.

4. When the Gallery first opened, its purchase grant was ÂŁ7,500 per annum. By 1970 it had risen to ÂŁ72,000 per annum and by 1985 to ÂŁ624,000. The purchase grant is now jointly held between the Scottish National Gallery, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, and stands at ÂŁ1,270,000.

5. More than 50% of the Gallery’s acquisitions are gifts and bequests. Two recent major bequests include the collection of Ken Powell, who left us a superb group of postwar British works by artists including Victor Pasmore, Anthony Hill, Terry Frost and William Turnbull; and a collection of nearly fifty paintings, drawings and prints by Ben Nicholson, left to us by his third wife, the photographer Felicitas Vogler.

6. Most of the important acquisitions purchased by the Gallery in recent years have been bought with help from The Art Fund, Britain’s leading independent art charity. The Art Fund has helped us buy major works by Joan Miró, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Joseph Beuys, Mona Hatoum, Rachel Whiteread and Cathy Wilkes, amongst others. The Heritage Lottery Fund has also been crucial in allowing us to buy work by the Surrealists, Barbara Hepworth and Joseph Beuys. Both organizations assisted with the acquisition of the ARTIST ROOMS collection.

7. Many of the most important gifts received by the Gallery in recent years have come through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme. This allows owners of “pre-eminent” works of art to leave them to HM Government instead of their Estates paying the equivalent value in tax. Major paintings by Walter Sickert, Max Ernst, Oskar Kokoschka and FCB Cadell have come to the Gallery through this scheme.

8. When the Gallery was sited at the Botanic Gardens, its first home, it closed at 3.30pm in the winter. The Gallery moved to much larger premises in Belford Road in 1984. The current building is the former John Watson’s School, designed by William Burn in 1825 as an institution for fatherless children. This new home offered four times as much exhibition space as Inverleith House.

9. The Galleries are open every day of the year, except Christmas day, and entry is always free to visit the permanent collection.

10. The Scottish National Gallery collects work dating up to about 1900 and the Gallery of Modern Art collection begins around 1900. The earliest work in the collection is Max Klinger’s print portfolio On the Finding of a Glove of 1881 (our version was published in 1924). The earliest painting is Edouard Vuillard’s The Chat (1893), and our earliest sculpture is Aristide Maillol’s bronze figure of Eve with an Apple, which dates from about 1899.

  • Eve à la Pomme [Eve with an Apple] Eve Ă  la Pomme [Eve with an Apple], by Aristide Maillol
  • Paraphrase über den Fund eines Handschuhes [On the Finding of a Glove] Opus VI Paraphrase ĂĽber den Fund eines Handschuhes [On the Finding of a Glove] Opus VI, by Max Klinger

11. Some works have swapped between the Scottish National Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art collections (they are ultimately the same collection, belonging to the National Galleries of Scotland). These include Picasso’s “Blue Period” Mother and Child, which was shown at the National Gallery until 1966; and two paintings by Pierre Bonnard and five by Eduard Vuillard, which were shown at the National Gallery until 1984.

12. Only one artist is represented in the collections of the Scottish National Gallery, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art: Stanley Cursiter (1887-1976). Curstier’s early work accords with the late nineteenth-century styles represented at the National Gallery, while in 1913 he embarked upon a brief phase as a Futurist. He was also a noted portraitist. He was Director of the National Galleries of Scotland from 1930 to 1948 and was influential in pushing for a Gallery of Modern Art.

13. The collection includes about 5000 works. There are about 750 oil paintings, 3730 prints and drawings, 200 sculptures and 220 photographs. These figures exclude the Paolozzi gift and our holdings of prints and booklets by Ian Hamilton Finlay, which together number several thousand items.

14. The biggest work in the collection is Eduardo Paolozzi’s Vulcan. Made of welded steel, and measuring 7.3 metres in height, it was commissioned for the entrance hall of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Two in 1999. It was too large to fit through the Gallery’s doors, so was constructed in thirteen individual pieces and welded together in situ.

15. The largest single painting in the collection is Robyn Denny’s Glass II (From There) (1971), which measures 274.3 x 365.8cm. It is too large to fit through the Gallery’s doors so is kept rolled up. It has to be unrolled and fitted onto its stretcher in the room in which it is shown. Bernard Schultze’s Der erste Tag (The First Day) (1989), comes in two parts which, fitted together, measure 200 x 560 cm

16. The smallest painting in the collection is John Duncan Fergusson’s tiny oil painting Bank of Scotland from Princes Street Gardens (about 1910). Painted on board, it measures just 13.7 x 11.1cm. It was presented by an anonymous donor in 2006. The smallest drawing is Paul Chiappe’s Untitled 6 (2007). A pencil drawing measuring just 3 x 5cm, it portrays 46 figures, in microscopic detail.

17. Eric Schilsky’s bronze bust of Gabrielle de Soane took more than fifty years to complete. It was begun in 1920 and then put aside, in a nearly complete state. Schilsky returned to it in 1972, when he remodelled the clothing in particular. It was only finished in 1974, not long before Schilsky’s death. Gabrielle de Soane also modeled for Modigliani.

18. Stephen Conroy was the youngest artist to have work purchased by the Gallery of Modern Art. Two of his works were bought in 1987 when he was 23 years old. A celebrated painting by Alan Davie, Blue Triangle Enters (1953), features footprints made by his three-year-old daughter.

19. The Landform in front of the Gallery of Modern Art was designed by Charles Jencks and was constructed in 2004. Comprising an S-shaped mound and three separate ponds, it earned the Gallery the prestigious G’ulbenkian Museum of the Year award in 2004. The steep, curved banks of the Landform are also much admired by seagulls, which flock there during the nesting season. To maintain hygiene, a falconer and his falcon visit the Landform regularly during the spring and summer, to keep the seagulls away.


20. Seagulls are not our only non-human visitors. Animals and birds which have been spotted in the grounds of the Gallery of Modern Art include foxes, badgers, mink, otters and heron.

21. The Gallery of Modern Art is sited close to the Water of Leith. Behind the Gallery, a set of steps leads down to the river, via a bridge. You can walk or cycle along the Water of Leith almost all the way from the Gallery of Modern Art to Stockbridge and beyond it to Leith. In 2010 a new multi-part work by sculptor Antony Gormley, entitled 6 Times and featuring six figures, will be sited in the river between the Gallery of Modern Art and the sea at Leith.

22. Two recent commissions include Martin Creed’s Work No. 975 EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT, a large neon work sited on the front of the Gallery of Modern Art; and Nathan Coley’s There Will be No Miracles Here, a huge text piece, spelt out in light-bulbs, sited in the grounds of Modern Two in November 2009. In 2010, Turner-prize-winning artist Richard Wright will produce a new work in the stairwells at Modern Two.

23. The first work acquired by the Gallery was Walter Sickert’s Portrait of Israel Zangwill, which was bought in March 1959, more than a year before the Gallery opened. At the time it was thought to date from 1904 but research now suggests that it was painted around 1896-98. Ironically, therefore, the first work acquired by the Gallery of Modern Art was a nineteenth-century painting.

24. The paintings by the Scottish Colourists (Samuel Peploe, John Duncan Fergusson, FCB Cadell and George Leslie Hunter) are among the most popular works in the collection. However, it is likely that Peploe, Hunter and Cadell did not realise they were Scottish Colourists: the term seems to have been coined in 1948, by which date those three artists were already dead.

25. Although the Gallery is fifty years old, there have only been three Directors (originally known as Keepers): Douglas Hall from 1961-1986, Richard Calvocoressi from 1986-2007, and Simon Groom from 2007. In its first year, 1960, the Director of the National Galleries of Scotland, David Baxandall, also acted as director of the Gallery of Modern Art.

26. The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Two, which is sited opposite Modern One on Belford Road, opened in 2000. The two Galleries are two parts of the same organization and the collection swaps between them. However, work by the Surrealists and Eduardo Paolozzi is normally shown at Modern Two, and temporary exhibitions are on show upstairs. The building was originally an orphanage, designed by Thomas Hamilton in 1831. During the Second World War, a section of Modern Two’s grounds was given over to allotments, which are still in use. The shed used by the allotment holders was built as a hut for the Auxiliary Territorial Service.

27. The grounds of both galleries used to be used for sports. When Modern One was a school, the front lawn had an athletics track and cricket was also played there, alongside sports-day events such as the egg and spoon race. The front grass at Modern Two was a football pitch and was still used by a local club until shortly before the galleries took it over.

28. In 2008 the Gallery acquired the ARTIST ROOMS collection. This collection of 1120 works by 25 artists was donated by the collector and former art dealer Anthony D’Offay, with support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, The Art Fund and Scottish and British Governments. The collection includes work by Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, Joseph Beuys and Jeff Koons. Ownership is shared between the National Galleries of Scotland and Tate. The collection is available to museums and galleries throughout Britain. More than 700,000 visitors saw the ARTIST ROOMS shows in UK venues outside London and Edinburgh in 2009.

29. Internationally, the Gallery of Modern Art is probably best known for its important collection of Surrealist art by artists such as DalĂ­, Magritte and MirĂł. The bulk of that collection was acquired in 1995. Early that year we purchased part of the famous collection which had belonged to the artist and writer Roland Penrose (this was thanks to major financial help from the Heritage Lottery Fund and The Art Fund). And later that same year Gabrielle Keiller bequeathed us her vast collection of Surrealist art, which includes major paintings, sculptures, drawings and books.

  • Oiseau [Bird] Oiseau [Bird], by Salvador DalĂ­
  • Le Miroir magique [The Magic Mirror] Le Miroir magique [The Magic Mirror], by RenĂ© Magritte
  • Tête de Paysan Catalan [Head of a Catalan Peasant] TĂŞte de Paysan Catalan [Head of a Catalan Peasant], by Joan MirĂł

30. The Gallery lends works from its collection to museums and galleries all over the world. In 2009 we lent to nineteen exhibitions in Britain alone: together these shows would have been seen by nearly 7 million people. In 2009 we lent 252 works to exhibitions all over the world (or 450 loans if we include works from the ARTIST ROOMS collection). Abroad, we lent to shows in Canada, Australia, Japan and elsewhere.

31. We are often asked to name the most valuable painting in the collection. The answer, however, is that they are all worth nothing because we cannot legally sell them. In the UK, public museums and galleries cannot sell or de-accession works except in very exceptional cases.

32. We have (or we believe we have) just one fake – a portrait by the Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani. It was bought by a private collector as a genuine Modigliani in the 1950s and was given to the Gallery in 1960. As Modigliani’s work became the subject of closer scrutiny, it became apparent that this work was a very good fake. Ironically, its frame is valuable: it is a genuine seventeenth-century Italian frame.

33. Magritte’s painting Representation (1937) shows the torso of a woman in a frame which is shaped like a torso. It is the only shaped frame Magritte ever made.

34. The Archive holds a collection of around 2,000 Artists’ Books. The smallest is The Thames pH Book by Tracey Bush, measuring just 1 x 6.6cm. The largest is a portfolio by Antoni Tàpies, Poems from the Catalan, which measures 80 x 59cm.

35. The Gallery’s library is housed at Modern Two and contains approximately 50,000 books which occupy around 600 metres of shelving. The Reading Room for the Library & Archive Collections is open to the public by appointment. The staff of the Library & Archive host regular Books in Focus sessions – a chance to see highlights of our Special Collections up close.

36. Duane Hanson’s sculpture Tourists is undoubtedly one of the most famous and popular works in the collection. The man and the woman look like a couple, but in fact they never even met. Hanson cast the woman first, and then found a man who “matched” her, and cast him from life. For many years, the security staff at the Gallery used to wind up his watch, which still told the right time.

37. Jacob Epstein’s huge alabaster sculpture Consummatum Est was bought by the Gallery in 1981 and is the largest carving in the collection. In the late 1930s it belonged to Tussaud’s fairground in Blackpool, where it was exhibited as a curiosity, alongside other Epstein carvings.

38. Maurice Utrillo’s La Place du Tertre of about 1910 is usually on show at the Gallery alongside paintings by Matisse and Picasso. It is signed “Maurice V Utrillo”, however, the signature was painted not by the artist, but by his mother. Utrillo’s writing was so big and clumsy that his mother – who had very neat writing – often signed his works for him.

39. The Gallery has made a number of controversial purchases over the years. Acquisitions which hit the headlines include Roy Lichtenstein’s In the Car, César’s Compression, which is made from crushed cars, and Richard Long’s Slate Line.  A recent acquisition, Cathy Wilkes’ We Are Pro Choice, which includes a shop mannequin and a toilet, proved equally as controversial.

  • In the Car In the Car, by Roy Lichtenstein
  • Compression Compression, by CĂ©sar (CĂ©sar Baldaccini)
  • We Are Pro Choice We Are Pro Choice, by Cathy Wilkes

40. The most popular exhibition ever organised by the Gallery of Modern Art was the Ron Mueck show which was staged in the Royal Scottish Academy building in the centre of Edinburgh in 2006 and attracted 127,000 visitors in just over two months.

41. Among the most perspicacious acquisitions made by the Gallery was a group of two paintings and four watercolours by the Russian artists Mikhail Larionov and Natalya Goncharova. These were bought directly from the artists in 1962 for ÂŁ500. The money had been donated by an anonymous supporter. The works would now cost well over ÂŁ1 million to buy.

42. Roy Lichtenstein’s painting In the Car (1963) is one of the most famous paintings in the collection. When it was bought in 1980 for £100,000 it created a storm of controversy (a second version one quarter of its size sold at auction in 2005 for more than $16million). The image derives from a cartoon published in the comic Girls’ Romances in September 1961. In that cartoon image the woman’s thought bubble reads: “I vowed to myself I would not miss my appointment – That I would not go riding with him – Yet before I knew it…”

43. A number of works in the collection are difficult to install. Damien Hirst’s Away from the Flock, which is part of the ARTIST ROOMS collection, comprises a glass tank containing a sheep in formaldehyde solution (1000 litres of distilled water to approximately 1 litre of formaldehyde). It has to be installed by a technician who has specialist training in the use of chemicals. Weighing about one ton, it has to be placed directly over a load-bearing beam.

44. David Mach’s Dying for It (1989), features 1426 glass bottles sited on the floor. Some of the bottles are filled with water dyed white, others with water dyed blue: filled to exact measurements marked on each bottle, the liquid creates the image of a figure lying down in the centre of a blue Saltire flag.  The work takes more than a day to install.

45. A number of works in the collection incorporate unusual materials. Karla Black’s Contact Isn’t Lost (2008), includes about 75kg of Plaster of Paris spread across the floor; works in the collection by Joseph Beuys feature lemon, chocolate, fat and blood; and a work by Cerith Wyn Evans is in luminous ink and only becomes visible after a light has been shone on it.

46. Speaking of unusual works, a number of works in the collection are designed to change over the years. Douglas Gordon’s List of Names is sited in the tall stairwell at the Gallery of Modern Art, extending over the full height of the building. It is a list of the names of everyone the artist can remember meeting. As he meets more people, so he records more names to be added to the list.

47. The works in our collection are formally owned by the Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland on behalf of the public. Although we may own the works, the rights to reproduce the works (the copyright) remains with the artist and then the artist’s estate for 70 years after the artist’s death.

48. The Gallery’s first exhibition in August 1960 was of work by the sculptor Henry Moore. His Two-piece Reclining Figure (1960) was included in that exhibition: costing £7,000, it became the Gallery’s first major purchase.

  • Two-Piece Reclining Figure No.2 Two-Piece Reclining Figure No.2, by Henry Moore

49. Paintings in the collection by, amongst others, SJ Peploe, Anne Redpath, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Max Ernst, have important works painted on their backs. We have modified the frames of the Kirchner and Ernst paintings so that visitors can see both sides.

50. Over the years, rumours of a ghost who appears at the Gallery at night have persisted. At least two members of staff state that they have heard piano music coming from the same room at night, and one member of the security staff says that he saw a man walk through a wall in the basement area.