Library and Print Room at the Portrait Gallery

Location: Scottish National Portrait Gallery (Level 1)
Opening hours: Monday to Friday, by arrangement
Book a visit: [email protected]
Our Research Facilities are currently open to limited numbers, by appointment, in order to protect the health of our staff and visitors. Please allow at least two weeks’ notice.

The Library and Print Room houses the Scottish National Portrait Gallery’s library collections, archive and over 50,000 works of art on paper, including the Photography Collection. It is also home to a notable collection of portrait miniatures. Visits can be made by appointment and are open to all.

Library

The library collection covers Scottish history, art history, biography, photography and costume. We also hold auction catalogues and journals dating from the 19th century to the present day.

Our Special Collections comprise rare material dating from the 16th century onwards, as well as two photographic collections: The Eve Arnold Library and the Riddell Collection.

Search the library catalogue

Archive

With its emphasis on Scottish sitters and artists, the archive is a unique resource for those studying Scottish history, portraiture and iconography.

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.

The archive also includes a small collection of Scottish artists’ papers, but the majority of the institutional archive is housed at the National Records of Scotland.

Photography

The Photography Collection contains over 55,000 objects, most of which can be viewed in the print room. It includes the largest group of works by photographic pioneers Hill and Adamson anywhere in the world. The Photography Collection was established in 1984 with the aim to collect and research photography, with a particular interest in Scottish photography and a remit to collect the work of international photographers. In 2018 National Galleries of Scotland and the National Library of Scotland  jointly acquired the MacKinnon Collection with support from Scottish Government, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Art Fund. The MacKinnon Collection comprises some 15,000 photographs ranging between 1840s to 1940s and is physically housed across both National Galleries of Scotland and National Library of Scotland sites.

Browse the photographs located in the print room

Prints and drawings

The portraiture prints and drawings collection consists of 20,000 prints and around 2,000 drawings and watercolours dating from the sixteenth century to the present day.

The print collection covers a wide range of print media (engravings, etchings, mezzotints, monoprints) and complements the paintings collection in representing the contributions of Scottish artists to the art of portraiture. An impressive collection of European prints (English and continental) has not only intrinsic historical and aesthetic value, it also provides the wider context for the study of Scottish portraiture and portraiture in general.

The drawings collection includes an important group of late 18th century pencil drawings by John Brown, and pastels by Allan Ramsay and Archibald Skirving. Artists’ preparatory sketches include the drawings of miniaturist Andrew Robertson, while the collection also holds copies drawn by David Stewart Erskine, 11th Earl Buchan after historical portraits, and sketchbooks by the Glasgow-born caricaturist Emilio Coia featuring a wide variety of famous faces from the 20th century.

Browse the prints and drawings located in the print room

Miniatures

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery cares for the national collection of about 400 portrait miniatures, around half of which are on long term loan to the gallery. The collection provides a thorough survey of the development of the miniature from the second half of the sixteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century, with works in all the media and supports used. There are magnificent examples by Nicholas Hilliard, John Hoskins and Samuel Cooper and a range of miniatures by continental artists. In addition, the collection holds an extensive collection of portrait medallions in glass paste by James Tassie.

Browse the miniatures located in the print room

Visiting the Library and Print Room

The Library and Print Room is located on Level 1 of the Portrait Gallery and is managed by a small team of curatorial and library staff. We operate an appointment system because our collections are kept in closed access stores – this means that they are not browsable and visitors are expected to request material to view in advance using the online catalogues. 

If you are not sure what you are looking for, or how to find it, please get in touch and one of our team will be able to advise you.

What you should bring:

  • Photographic ID, such as a passport or driving licence
  • Pencil and paper, if you wish to take notes
  • Laptops/mobile devices, if needed

We ask that visitors to the Library and Print Room respect the collection and take advice from staff on handling and care of objects. Photography is permitted for non-commercial use. Please let us know if you have any access requirements.

Group visits

Group visits in person are not currently possible, due to room capacities. If you would like to arrange a virtual viewing of a selection of works from the collection, please get in touch with us by email. 

Book a visit

Book a visit

Appointments are currently limited to one visitor per session in order to protect the health of our staff and visitors. Please allow at least two weeks’ notice.
If you have any special requirements, you can also contact us to make an appointment by email.

Other resources

Other resources