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More about Historic Scotland, Edinburgh

Historic Scotland is the Scottish Government agency which safeguards the nation’s historic environment and promotes its understanding and enjoyment. It looks after 345 places to visit throughout Scotland, including castles, abbeys and other historical buildings and archaeological sites. Within Edinburgh there are two venues in which Historic Scotland displays some of its fine art collection: Edinburgh Castle in the heart of the city and Trinity House in Leith.

Historic Scotland’s paintings at Edinburgh Castle reflect the site’s significance in Scottish history, and cover varying subject matter from royal portraits to topographical illustrations and historical scenes. Among the most significant are four portraits of James VI of Scotland, including a rare early portrait attributed to the Flemish artist Adrian Vanson. This hangs in the royal apartments where the King was born in 1566. Other notable historical subjects include The Last Sleep of Argyll before His Execution, 1685 by Edward Matthew Ward (1816–1879), recalling the night before the execution of Archibald, 9th Earl of Argyll at Edinburgh Castle, and The Fight for the Standard by Richard Ansdell (1815–1885), which depicts Ensign Charles Ewart of the Royal North British Dragoons (Scots Greys) capturing the Standard of the 45th Regiment of the Line at Waterloo. Historic Scotland’s paintings are displayed at different locations throughout the Castle. A twentieth-century work by James N. Madison, The Highland Charge of Drummossie Moor, hanging in the café, features a detailed realisation of the Battle of Culloden, 16th April 1746. Within the Prisons of War exhibition, the eighteenth-century painting View of Edinburgh Castle, by an unknown artist, provides a detailed historical record of the Castle.

For centuries, Trinity House has served as the headquarters of the Incorporation of Masters and Mariners of Leith, a charity supporting the welfare and interests of local seafarers. The building, rebuilt in 1816 on much earlier foundations, houses an extensive collection that reflects the work of the Incorporation and the rich history of seafaring associated with the Port of Leith. Along with oil paintings and other artworks are nautical instruments, charts, ship models, furniture and an eclectic range of objects brought back from voyages around the world. The paintings in the collection include portraits, maritime and local topographical subjects.

The portraits largely feature the former masters and honorary members of the charity. These include four works by the celebrated Edinburgh portraitist Sir Henry Raeburn (1756–1823), including the full-length portrait of Admiral Adam Duncan (1731–1804), 1st Viscount Duncan of Camperdown, who was made an honorary member after his famous victory at Camperdown in 1797.

The most prominent maritime painting in the collection is Vasco da Gama Encountering the Spirit of the Storm by David Scott, RSA (1806–1849). This canvas dominates the north end of the Convening Room. It depicts the Portuguese explorer and his crew rounding the Cape of Good Hope in 1497. Other paintings feature important ships associated with Leith and seascapes of Newcastle by Bernard Benedict Hemy (1845–1913), and Liverpool by Clarkson Stanfield (1793–1867).

The local topographical paintings provide a valuable record of how the Port of Leith developed from the early eighteenth century to the late nineteenth century. Most notable of these is the Flemish School work A View of Leith with Galleon (c.1710), showing key landmarks, including the Signal Tower, King’s Wark and the Timber Bush. The nineteenth-century paintings capture Leith as a busy commercial port at the time when steamboats were replacing traditional sailing vessels.

Hugh Morrison, Collections Registrar

Text source: PCF / Historic Scotland, Edinburgh

This description was originally written for a catalogue.

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