Despite being a self-confessed art addict, I am always a little dubious about gallery tours due to my ridiculously short attention span. However, last month’s tour at the Scottish National Gallery, which focused on a small number of paintings from their permanent collection, was definitely not one to be missed.
Short but sweet, this complimentary 45-minute whistle-stop journey happens on the last Saturday of every month, taking viewers through the histories and facts behind some of the Gallery’s most intriguing paintings in a manner that is both informative and light-hearted. No prior art historical knowledge is assumed, making it suitable for all, and I was particularly struck by the personable and engaging demeanour of the tour guide who immediately created a comfortable and friendly atmosphere for interaction and discussion.
The selection of paintings, carefully chosen by the tour guide herself, depicted a variety of scenes by artists from a broad range of eras, and often contained intriguing imagery along with some fun facts behind the works. Paintings such as ‘An Allegory of the Old and New Testaments’ by Hans Holbein the Younger, stood out in particular due to the unavoidably fascinating images of skeletons, biblical scenes, and rich use of symbolism, such as the depiction of a snake on a crucifix, which I learned was used to represent healing. Most of the paintings depicted animals, which provoked an enthusiastic reaction from the younger audience members when asked to point them out.
Another painting from the tour which left one of the biggest impressions on me was ‘Home and the Homeless,’ a domestic scene by Thomas Faed which contrasts the home life of a happy, healthy family from the mid-1800’s with a poverty-stricken war widow and child. I even learned that one of the artist’s patrons, philanthropic Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts, was the person who commissioned the bronze statue of Greyfriars Bobby which sits on George IV Bridge.
The tour guide spoke in a clear and expressive manner, whilst sometimes putting on voices to appeal to the children. She brushed upon the interesting, juicy facts in regards to the works of art without going into too much depth, which kept everyone engaged. For those who would like more in-depth knowledge on specific paintings, however, I would recommend joining a more detailed tour.
Overall, I would highly recommend this tour if you would like a brief but stimulating insight into some of the finest artworks within the Scottish National Gallery. I found it both engaging and inspiring, and I can safely say that I plan on returning for another experience when I next have a spare Saturday afternoon.
Image: Carlos Finlay