Scottish National Portrait Gallery Library, Reference Section and Archive



The Scottish National Portrait Gallery Library comprises some 50,000 items including auction and exhibition catalogues, periodicals, monographs and reference books. The collection exists to support the work of curators, educators, researchers and students.

The primary focus of the collection is the history of Scotland and Scottish society, with particular strengths in biographies of Scots and Scottish portraiture.

The collection of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century auction catalogues contain unique annotations, which provide evidence of the Gallery’s early collecting policy. The periodical collection focuses on Scottish history, art history and photography with holdings dating back to the late nineteenth century.

Search the Library catalogue.

Reference Section and Archive

The main component of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery Reference Section is the Portrait Archive which has two sections, the Sitters’ Files and the Artists’ Files. The former consists of 26,000 reproductions of portraits in private and public collections, representing over 11,500 Scots. The latter comprises 30,000 photographs of portraits by Scottish artists.

Images have been gathered from countrywide photographic surveys, auction houses and museums and private individuals across the world. The Portrait Archive also includes photographs of Scotsmen and women, commissioned by the Gallery from 1931 as part of a Photographic Record of Distinguished Contemporaries.

With its emphasis on Scottish sitters and artists, the Archive is a unique resource for those studying Scottish history, portraiture and iconography. The Reference Section also includes a small collection of Scottish artists’ papers.

Please note the Reference Section is not available to search online.

The Portrait Gallery also holds a small archive of papers relating to the history of the Portrait Gallery.

Search the Archive catalogue.

Opening hours

The Reading Room at The Scottish National Portrait Gallery Library is open by appointment, Monday to Friday 10am-1pm and 2-4.30pm.

First-time visitors will be asked to show some form of ID such as a passport or driver’s licence.

There is wheelchair access to the Library via a lift.

WiFi is available in the Library.

Groups of up to fifteen are welcome to visit the Library. Group visits should be pre-booked at least four weeks in advance.