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The National Galleries of Scotland is home to one of the world’s finest collections of art, which ranges from the Middle Ages to the present day. The spectacular buildings house the world’s greatest collection of Scottish art and a collection of Scottish and international photography. They welcome visitors to three principal sites in Edinburgh: the Scottish National Gallery, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.


Art Unlocked is an online talk series by Art UK in collaboration with Bloomberg Philanthropies. This Curation is based on a talk by Imogen Gibbon, Deputy Director and Chief Curator of Portraiture at the NGS, on 21st July 2021. You can find a recording at https://youtu.be/mKIiAq4eXXk

6 artworks
  • The artist Esther Inglis was the daughter of Huguenot refugees who fled religious persecution in France, eventually settling in Edinburgh. Around 1596 she married Bartholomew Kello, a minor government official, who employed her as his scribe. She had learnt calligraphy, the art of decorative handwriting, from her mother. During her career she produced a large number of calligraphies and manuscripts, as well as miniatures and embroideries. Inglis received commissions from the Stuarts, Elizabeth I and various aristocratic families. Many of her works include small self-portraits. In some she appears as in this portrait, with a tall hat, ruff, and white stomacher covered in black floral embroidery.

    Esther Inglis (1571–1624), Calligrapher and Miniaturist 1595
    unknown artist
    Oil on panel
    H 74.6 x W 63.2 cm
    National Galleries of Scotland
    Esther Inglis (1571–1624), Calligrapher and Miniaturist
    Photo credit: National Galleries of Scotland

  • This unique portrait documents the first time an Arctic Inuit freely travelled to Scotland. John Sakeouse came from the west coast of Greenland and became curious to visit Britain after missionaries converted him to Christianity. He stowed away with his canoe on the whaling ship Thomas and Ann, arriving at its home port of Leith in August 1816. Huge crowds soon came to marvel at his speed and skill as a canoeist and harpoon-thrower, and he became something of a local celebrity. The Edinburgh artist, Alexander Nasmyth, came across Sakeouse in the street during his second stay in Leith in 1817-18. He painted this portrait and gave Sakeouse art lessons.

    John Sakeouse (1797–1819), Inuit Whaler and Artist c.1816
    Alexander Nasmyth (1758–1840)
    Oil on panel
    H 29.9 x W 22 cm
    National Galleries of Scotland
    John Sakeouse (1797–1819), Inuit Whaler and Artist
    Photo credit: National Galleries of Scotland

  • Eric Liddell remains one of the most inspiring Olympic athletes. He is remembered equally for his fame as a sportsman and his work as a missionary. He won two medals in the 1924 Paris Olympic Games, most famously the gold in the 400 metres and a bronze in the 200 metres. Although the favourite to win the 100 metres in Paris, Liddell chose not to run in the event on religious grounds as the heats were on a Sunday. The artist Eileen Soper was a family friend of the Liddells. A printmaker and illustrator, she is best known as a wildlife artist and for illustrating Enid Blyton’s Famous Five adventures. She painted this portrait of Liddell in the year of his last appearance on the track on British soil – Hampden Park in the summer of 1925.

    Eric Liddell (1902–1945), Athlete and Missionary 1925
    Eileen Soper (1905–1990)
    Oil on canvas
    H 73.5 x W 61.5 cm
    National Galleries of Scotland
    Eric Liddell (1902–1945), Athlete and Missionary
    © courtesy Chris Beetle Gallery. Photo credit: National Galleries of Scotland

  • Ken Currie has captured the horror and anxiety associated with cancer in this powerful triple portrait. As pioneering cancer specialists, the oncologists are depicted ready and prepared to fight and destroy the disease. When this portrait was painted, Professor Robert Steele (left), Professor Sir Alfred Cuschieri (centre) and Professor Sir David Lane (right) were members of the Department of Surgery and Molecular Oncology at Ninewells Hospital and Medical School, Dundee. Three Oncologists was Currie’s first official portrait commission. As the oncologists were unable to gather for multiple portrait sittings, life masks were made as a record of their appearance. Currie also spent many hours observing his sitters in the operating theatre.

    Three Oncologists (Professor R. J. Steele, Professor Sir Alfred Cuschieri and Professor Sir David P. Lane of the Department of Surgery and Molecular Oncology, Ninewells Hospital, Dundee) 2002
    Ken Currie (b.1960)
    Oil on canvas
    H 195.5 x W 243.8 cm
    National Galleries of Scotland
    Three Oncologists (Professor R. J. Steele, Professor Sir Alfred Cuschieri and Professor Sir David P. Lane of the Department of Surgery and Molecular Oncology, Ninewells Hospital, Dundee)
    © the artist/courtesy Flowers Gallery, London and New York. Photo credit: National Galleries of Scotland

  • This unusual portrait sculpture is a re-creation in crystal glass of one of the racing helmets worn by Susie Wolff during her career in Formula 1. To create it Angela Palmer worked with a team of glass blowers in Stourbridge near Birmingham. The result is a delicate object, the fragility of which reminds us of the vulnerability and bravery of drivers like Wolff, as they take extraordinary risks in pursuit of ever-faster speeds. Wolff was born in Oban in 1982 and from a young age raced karts. She went on to be a professional motor racing driver, moving into F1 in 2012 as a Williams team development driver and later, a test driver. At the 2014 British Grand Prix, she became the first woman to take part in an F1 race weekend in 22 years.

    Susie Wolff: Portrait of a Racing Driver 2018
    Angela Palmer (b.1957)
    Crystal glass
    H 28 x W 25.7 x D 33.1 cm
    National Galleries of Scotland
    Susie Wolff: Portrait of a Racing Driver
    © the artist. Photo credit: National Galleries of Scotland

  • Horse McDonald is an iconic and unique singer-songwriter and is one of Scotland’s most celebrated singers. She has been writing, recording and performing for over thirty years. Q magazine described her as owning ‘one of the finest voices of modern times, soul and intelligence combined.’ The sitting for this portrait included Horse singing her best-loved song Careful, live and a cappella for the artist in her studio. This became an intimate exploration, for both artist and sitter, of Horse’s captivating performance style; the resulting portrait shows Horse in a frozen moment on stage.

    Horse McDonald (b.1958), Singer and Songwriter 2019
    Roxana Halls (b.1974)
    Oil on linen
    H 140 x W 120 cm
    National Galleries of Scotland
    Horse McDonald (b.1958), Singer and Songwriter
    © the artist. Photo credit: National Galleries of Scotland