Portraiture archive

In order to help protect the health of our staff and visitors during this difficult time we have closed all of our research rooms. During this time we're not taking bookings for individual appointments or group visits.

Location: Scottish National Portrait Gallery
Open by appointment: Closed
Contact: [email protected]

The main component of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery Reference Section is the Portraiture Archive which has two sections, the Artists’ Files and the Sitters’ Files. The Artists’ Files contain curatorial research notes and photographs of paintings by artists from the 16th century onwards. The Sitters’ Files were founded in the 1930s and hold upwards of 26,000 photographs of portraits of Scots in public and private collections, covering over 11,500 individuals.

They were conceived as a national register of portraits gathered from countrywide photographic surveys and auction houses, and images acquired from museums and private individuals across the world.  Initiated originally as a documentary record and subsequently as a supportive resource, the sitters files now have intrinsic historical interest as an archive in itself.

The Portrait Archive is comparable to similar collections of photographic material held by the National Portrait Gallery, London; the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art; the Courtauld Institute of Art; the Getty Research Institute and the Frick Collection. 

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.

Search the Archive catalogue

The Portraiture Archive is available to the public by appointment, and is used extensively by staff, academic and picture researchers, students, and people undertaking personal study on their own families and collections.



Book a visit

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. 

Groups of up to 10 are welcome to visit the Library.
Group visits should be pre-booked at least four weeks in advance.

+44 (0)131 624 6407

[email protected]