• Sun. Dec 10th, 2023

The Perfect Valentine’s Date for Art Lovers

BySophie Nardi-Bart

Feb 4, 2022
Picture of the architecture of the main hall of the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh

For those who are looking for a different kind of Valentine’s

As Valentine’s day approaches, there is perhaps no better date spot than the classic museum excursion. Gazing dreamily into each other’s eyes while looking at beautiful paintings and photography is both super romantic and a great way to make sure you have something to talk about. For lovers new and old, there’s nothing quite as nice as passing back and forth whimsical musings on the nature of art while strolling together through quiet, serene corridors.

For a good date at a museum, the architecture of the building is almost as important as the content of the halls. The space has to foster that special feeling of intimacy, making you feel like you are the only two people in the world even while surrounded by hundreds of historical portraits looking back at you, and probably a few other visitors. The Scottish National Portrait Gallery, on Queen Street in the heart of New Town, is one of those spots, known for its impressive architecture and its collection of portraits of Scottish people past and present. 

The main attraction of this museum is its beautiful great hall and balcony. You can stand in the centre of the great hall, enveloped in cool light staring up at the ceiling which is decorated with an illustration of the night sky constellations from which warm, glowing red lamps hang. I’d recommend walking up the stairs to stand at the wrought iron gate of the balcony, tucked away in your own little corner underneath one of the gothic sandstone arches. Gaze at the intricate decorations of the room and see what little details you can spot together. Some of these details hide amidst the huge murals of important moments from Scottish history on the walls of the balcony and in paintings of different Scottish crests on the arches. Others are built into the architectural features, such as the golden cornices on the impressive columns and the captivating stained glass windows. Brush shoulders and whisper into each other’s ears as sound echoes and bounces around the open room – what could be more romantic?

Ken Currie, Three Oncologists (Professor RJ Steele, Professor Sir Alfred Cuschieri and Professor Sir David P Lane of the Department of Surgery and Molecular Oncology, Ninewells Hospital, Dundee), 2002, Portrait Gallery.
Image Credits: https://www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/65127

Once you are ready to stop standing still and flirting and want to walk through the rest of the museum, the Portrait Gallery offers many rambling rooms. There are things to see for both historical and modern art lovers alike, with displays like Heroes and Heroines: Idealism and Achievement in the Victorian Age and Imagining Power: The Visual Culture of the Jacobite Cause as well as The Modern Portrait.

My personal favourite piece at the museum is Three Oncologists by Ken Currie, from The Modern Portrait exhibition. In it, three doctors stare at the viewer from what might be a surgery hall immersed in dark blueish shadow, framed by two curtains. The doctors themselves emanate a mysterious blue glow as well, creating an eerie and intense atmosphere. This is emphasized by their ghoulish gazes, seemingly caught in the moment of surgical preparation and floating between the world of the anatomical and the world that the viewer inhabits outside in the gallery. It’s certainly not a romantic painting, but I think that makes it all the more interesting and exciting to see on a date. Lovers who can appreciate the macabre and the verging-on-grotesque together, stay together. 

Once you’re done gazing and swooning and contemplating, Cafe Portrait is ready for you to sit in and enjoy a coffee together, loitering until you get kicked out at 5 pm when the museum closes. Fortunately, that’s the perfect time to move to another location and continue talking about art and love and the meaning of life, whether that be at a restaurant, bar, or maybe even someone’s flat (wink, wink). Where Valentine’s day takes you next is up to you! 

Image: National Portrait Gallery by Gary Campbell-Hall via Flickr