The History of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art


The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art first opened in August 1960 at Inverleith House in Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden. It moved to its present site at Modern One on Belford Road in 1984.

In March 1999, the National Galleries of Scotland opened Modern Two across the road from Modern One. As a sister gallery, it displays the Gallery of Modern Art's permanent collection as well as hosting temporary exhibitions.


Modern One is housed in an imposing neo-classical building, which was designed by William Burn in 1825. Formerly the John Watson’s School, an institute for fatherless children, it was adapted for the Gallery in 1984. It now has bright, spacious rooms for both temporary exhibitions and permanent collection displays, and a print-room which is open by appointment. It also houses the conservation workshop for all the National Galleries, as well as a café and shop.

Charles Jencks, Landform (2001)

The grounds of the Gallery provide an ideal setting for sculptures by Tony Cragg, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and Rachel Whiteread, among others. The lawn at the front of the building was landscaped to a design by Charles Jencks to create Landform Ueda, which comprises a stepped, serpentine-shaped mound complemented by crescent-shaped pools of water. A combination of artwork, garden and social space, the landform was inspired by chaos theory and shapes found in nature. It won the Gulbenkian Prize for Museum of the Year in 2004.

Thomas Hamilton, Design for the Dean Orphanage, Edinburgh, about 1830

Modern Two was originally built as the Dean Orphan Hospital in 1833 by Thomas Hamilton. In 1999 it was converted into a Gallery by Terry Farrell and Partners in order to show the Gallery of Modern Art’s extensive collection of Dada and Surrealist art and work by the sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi.

William Home Lizars, The Dean Orphanage, Edinburgh, 1860

A selection of paintings and sculpture from the Gallery’s Dada and Surrealist collection is displayed in the Penrose Gallery and adjacent Keiller Library, a specially designed library gallery. There is also a reading room where works from the library and archive can be consulted by appointment. The recreation of Paolozzi’s London studio is on permanent display at the same level.

His monumental sculpture Vulcan was commissioned for the Gallery’s Great Hall, and panels made by him, originally commissioned for Cleish Castle in Perth and Kinrossare, are installed in this room’s ceiling. Amongst the artworks in the grounds of the Gallery are pieces by Bourdelle, Rickey, Hamilton Finlay, Long and Opie.