Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland, is located on the southeastern side of the country. A grand park divides the city into two distinct halves: the Medieval Old Town and the 18th-century New Town. The heart of Edinburgh lies at Edinburg Castle, one of the oldest fortified places in Europe. Set upon a rock high above the city, the castle has been both a fort and a royal residence since the 11th century; today the place serves as a tourist attraction welcoming about two million visitors daily. Only a four-minute walk from the birthplace of Edinburgh is the Scottish National Gallery.

Museums of the World: Scottish National Gallery - Sheet1
Scottish National Gallery_Eye on Edinburgh

Architecture and History

Museums of the World: Scottish National Gallery - Sheet2
A Sketch of the RSA and SNG by Sir David Young Cameron (1916)_National Galleries Scotland

The Scottish National Gallery comprises both the National Gallery building and the Royal Scottish Academy building, designed by William Henry Playfair in neoclassical style. The two used to be split along the middle. The east side housed the exhibition galleries of the Royal Scottish Academy, and the west side contained the new National Gallery of Scotland. On August 30th, 1850, Prince Albert laid the foundation stone of the National Gallery. The National Gallery building was designed in the form of an Ancient Greek temple in the Ionic order, while designed the RSA building in the Doric order. The rows of plain pilasters form the main west and east elevations with the higher central transverse block having hexastyle Ionic porticoes. Paired Ionic columns in the anta are flanked by tetrastyle Ionic porticoes at the north and south elevations. The floor plan was laid out in a cruciform shape. An evening reception on March 24th of 1859 marked the building’s first public opening.

Museums of the World: Scottish National Gallery - Sheet3
View from the South_ZoomViewer

Over a hundred and sixty-four years of operation, the Scottish National Gallery has continued to expand. During the time 1971-1972, the upper floor was built at the south end hosting five small new galleries. In 1978, a further suite of galleries is opened beneath the ground level at the south end of the National Gallery. Not only does the space house the Gallery’s Scottish Collection but also has it been where facilities function, such as a print room, library, and picture store. An underground construction, overlooking Princes Street gardens, connects the National Gallery and the Royal Academy building. The link, known as Weston Link, was designed by John Miller and Partners with the challenge of redeveloping the buildings for modern purposes. It provides space for education suites, a new restaurant and café, a lecture theatre, and an IT gallery.

Museums of the World: Scottish National Gallery - Sheet4
Weston Link Exterior_Richard Dear

Gardens Level

Museums of the World: Scottish National Gallery - Sheet5
The Entrance on Garden Level_National Galleries Scotland

Taking a few steps down from Princes Street, people enter Scottish National Gallery through the entrance at the garden level. The Scottish café and restaurant are situated right behind the threshold. Capturing views east across Princes Street Gardens, visitors can enjoy Scottish classics and afternoon tea. After a seven-month refurbishment in 2019, the restaurant was reopened with more vibrant color themes of blue, orange, and red-purple for the interior design. Adjacent to the restaurant is the gallery shop that stocks Scottish gifts, books, limited edition prints, stationery, fashion, craft, design, and exclusive products featuring images from Scottish artworks. Behind the gift store is the “Conserving Scotland’s Art” exhibition going on till April 16th, 2023. Here, people can learn about art conservation and the benefit it can bring to our future generations. The display emphasizes the significance of preservation in the art field.

Museums of the World: Scottish National Gallery - Sheet6
Restaurant and Cafe_Contini The Scottish Cafe & Restaurant
Museums of the World: Scottish National Gallery - Sheet7
The Gallery Shop_the Edinburgh Reporter
Museums of the World: Scottish National Gallery - Sheet8
Conservator at Work_National Galleries Scotland

Ground Level

Floor Pland and Exterior Elevation_National Galleries Scotland

The main gallery, housing the works of the Old Masters, is located on ground level. The collections are organized in time order following room numbers which are counted from the front to the back; the earlier the period, the smaller the number. The Scottish National Gallery building’s ground level is planned using the symmetry of Gestalt principles. Each room configures an octagon. The archway serves as a threshold between the two octagonal spaces. The dramatic plain backdrop in bold red and gold wall sweep are the key elements of the interior design on this level. Room 2 displays Gothic/ Renaissance (1300-1550) whose main themes are early Netherlandish and German paintings, focusing on religious subjects for public and private worship and portraiture. Room 3 contains works painted in the Venetian Republic and its northern territories, marking the revolution of rich, vibrant colors, looser brushstrokes, and the effects of light. One of the most religious works commissioned for a Scottish chapel, Hugo van der Goes’s “Trinity Altarpiece”, also is temporarily displayed here. Room 5 houses the collection of Southern Baroque (1580-1680), which encompassed a wide range of artistic styles, from the naturalistic to the emotive.

Museums of the World: Scottish National Gallery - Sheet10
The Main Gallery on Ground Level_Graham and Megan Miln

Room 7 and 9 carry the Dutch and Flemish collections (1590 – 1700), consisting of paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Rubens, and Van Dyck. The works from the Northern and Southern Netherlands during this period paid more attention to specific types of painting, such as portraiture, landscape, still life, and daily life scenes. Room 10 is saved for Scottish Art (1670 – 1840), like portraits by Allan Ramsay and Sir Henry Raeburn, Scotland’s land and cityscapes, as well as genre-painting by artists such as David Willkie and David Allan. Paul Gauguin’s “Vision of the Sermon” being an exception, makes a short-term stay here. Room 11 shows the transition of art from Rococo (or Late Baroque) to Neo-classicism, adopted by Emperor Napoleon for propaganda purposes. Room 12 and 13 display Painting as Spectacle, including celebratory modern history paintings as commercial speculations by entrepreneurial artists like John Singleton Copley and Samuel Bough. Room 4 and 6 are placed in the center of the Scottish National Gallery building, whose walls instead of red are covered in blue. Room 4 is the Cabinet display. Room 6 is home to the French artist Nicholas Poussin’s “Seven Sacraments”, which is remarkable for its clarity, symmetry, and quiet restraint.

Upper Level

Contrast to the lower level, the Scottish National Gallery’s upper floor has blue with the dado rail attached. Room 14 contains smaller-scale paintings by some of the greatest European artists of the 18th and 19th centuries, such as Watteau, Chardin, Ramsay, Canaletto, and Stubbs feature. Room 17 is a collection of 19th and early 20th-century Scottish artworks by William Mctaggart, Sir James Guthrie, John Duncan, Arthur Melville, Phoebe Anna Traquair, and others. Room 18 hosts the display of Impressionism and French Modernism from artists like Monet, Morisot, Gauguin, Cezanne, and Van Gogh. Their subjects involved interest in the fleeting sensations of nature, as well as the fast pace of modern life.

Museums of the World: Scottish National Gallery - Sheet11
Upper Level Gallery_National Galleries Scottland


  1. (no date) Our history. Available at: https://www.nationalgalleries.org/about-us/our-history (Accessed: March 4, 2023). 
  2. (no date) What’s on. Available at: https://www.nationalgalleries.org/whats-on?what%5Bexhibition%5D=exhibition&what%5Broom%5D=room&where%5Bnational%5D=national (Accessed: March 4, 2023). 
  3. Scottish National Gallery (2022) Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottish_National_Gallery (Accessed: March 4, 2023). 

Vy Nguyen, is a senior student majoring in interior design, in love with East Asian architecture and philosophy. She is full of passion for art, literature, film and cats. The ocean is her home at heart and the whale is her spirit animal. Her latest focus includes architectural illustration, building material science and instant photography.