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Aberdeen Art Gallery is home to one of the finest collections in the UK. From Brueghel to Borland and Landseer to Lambie, the collection spans over 700 years and includes a staggering range of works by artists, designers and makers. They are proud to care for these treasures on behalf of the people of Aberdeen and to share their stories with their visitors. Between 2015 and 2019 the Gallery underwent a landmark redevelopment and were a joint winner of Art Fund Museum of the Year 2020.


Art Unlocked is an online talk series by Art UK in collaboration with Bloomberg Philanthropies. This Curation is based on a talk by Madeline Ward, Lead Curator of Aberdeen Art Gallery, on 2nd June 2021. You can find a recording at: https://youtu.be/F17Z7raVEkc

5 artworks
  • Mosman was commissioned in 1756 by the Town Council in Aberdeen to paint this unusual view. The perspective has earned much criticism, even being described by one critic as ‘villainously bad’. The effect, however, is likely to be the result of Mosman’s inexperience at working from a camera obscura projection. Mosman portrays Aberdeen in an idyllic light – quite literally brushing over the town’s notorious trade in kidnapped children and role in the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745. This view reminds us that we need to navigate the past with caution. We cannot always see what is being embellished or omitted.

    View of Aberdeen 1756
    William Mosman (c.1700–1771)
    Oil on canvas
    H 88.6 x W 175.7 cm
    Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums
    View of Aberdeen
    Photo credit: Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums

  • Reid’s self-portrait is one of a series of 93 artists' portraits and self-portraits commissioned by Aberdeen granite merchant and art collector Alexander Macdonald. The 93 uniformly sized works not only sum up Macdonald’s personal tastes but provide a fascinating survey of the contemporary arts scene in the late 19th century. The series includes portraits of artists whose names we recognise and still celebrate today, for example, Dutch painters such as Jozef Israels and Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema, and founder member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood Sir John Everett Millais. But it also includes less well-known figures, such as the architect of New Scotland Yard, Richard Norman Shaw, and cartoonist for 'Punch' magazine Linley Sambourne.

    Self Portrait 1882
    George Reid (1841–1913)
    Oil on canvas
    H 34.5 x W 29.7 cm
    Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums
    Self Portrait
    Photo credit: Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums

  • Waterhouse portrays Penelope's legendary marital fidelity as recorded in Homer's epic poem, 'The Odyssey'. For many years, Penelope’s husband Odysseus had been absent at the siege of Troy. Pressed to make a second marriage, she stalls for time, telling the crowds of suitors that they must wait until she has finished weaving a shroud for her father-in-law. During the day she works at her weaving and at night she undoes all her day's work. In 1912, the Gallery’s acquisition of the painting was criticised by some Aberdonians. They complained about the painting’s high cost, irrelevant theme, historical inaccuracies, and a lack of local connection. Today, Waterhouse’s painting is one of the best-loved and best-known in Aberdeen’s collection.

    Penelope and the Suitors 1912
    John William Waterhouse (1849–1917)
    Oil on canvas
    H 129.8 x W 188 cm
    Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums
    Penelope and the Suitors
    Photo credit: Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums

  • This painted triptych by Scottish artist Alison Watt epitomises Watt’s focus in the 1980s and early 1990s on the human figure – before abandoning it altogether and producing works notable for the complete absence of bodies.


    Across three self-portraits Watt encounters three fruits. The symbolic meaning of each fruit is well documented in art history but are we supposed to read Watt’s selection symbolically or literally?

    Cherries, Forbidden Fruit and Pear in a Landscape 1991
    Alison Watt (b.1965)
    Oil on canvas
    H 152 x W 60.6 cm
    Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums
    Cherries, Forbidden Fruit and Pear in a Landscape
    © the artist. Photo credit: Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums

  • There are many compelling depictions of children in Aberdeen's collection but the gaze of the young girl going to school is one of the most arresting of them all. The painting may have been conceived as an accompanying illustration for a text by French writer Andre Theuriet with whom Bastien-Lepage (1848–1884) had planned a publication describing the cycle of country life. Theuriet describes the daily trek to and from school: 'From 8 o’clock in the morning, winter and summer alike, one finds the children from the hamlets and outlying farms of the district on the roads leading to the market town. Clad in clogs and stout hobnailed boots, the boys and girls trudge along noisily, with their textbooks in folios under their arms.'

    Going to School 1882
    Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848–1884)
    Oil on canvas
    H 80.9 x W 59.8 cm
    Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums
    Going to School
    Photo credit: Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums