Deborah Punshon discovers how Scotland’s oldest privately owned gallery throws not one birthday party ... but three!

The Winter Journey Exhibition. Picture: John McKenzie
The Winter Journey Exhibition. Picture: John McKenzie

Celebrating with family and reflecting on the past while looking forward to the future are what birthdays are all about.

But you may be surprised to hear that’s exactly what the Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh has in store to mark its 175th anniversary this month.

The family? Artists who regularly exhibit as well as several who haven’t for some time ... just like our own families then!

This family also comes bearing gifts: contributions to not one but three new exhibitions running until the start of June.

The first will see one of Scotland’s finest landscape painters return to the renowned gallery, while the second will consist of a collaboration of unique paintings and one-off pins from current and significant artists on a massive canvas.

Lastly, Portrait of a Gallery II builds on the successful 2013 exhibition showing important works of Scottish art including paintings from the landscape tradition, the Scottish Colourists, the schools of Scotland, the war years, modern Scottish women and contemporary painters.

Christina Jansen, the gallery’s managing director, said: “Curating a show to celebrate such a milestone is no easy task.

“As the first public gallery in Scotland, the Scottish Gallery’s history is in many ways the history of art in Scotland.

“To recognise this while also celebrating our current artists, we knew no one exhibition could capture it so we’re delighted to be able to mount three for our birthday month.

“It’s a privilege to host Duncan Shanks’ latest show and also to give voice to some of our favourite artists with a unique 175mm x 175mm canvas brief.

“How artists including Alison Watt, Jock McFadyen and Kate Downie have responded has us excited to see the public reaction to these small, but perfectly formed, works.

“Portrait of a Gallery II is a snapshot of the then and now of the Scottish Gallery, offering an opportunity to see some of the finest works created in and for Scotland.”

The Georgian gallery in Dundas Street is the oldest public gallery in Scotland.

The three exhibits capture some of its unique history, showcasing never before seen works and unique commissions.

Duncan Shanks, who is celebrating his 80th birthday in 2017, presents a thematically-rich new exhibition which takes centre stage in the main gallery until June 3.

Born in Lanarkshire, Shanks draws his subjects and inspiration from the countryside around his home in the Clyde Valley.

Winter Journey includes self-portraiture in a narrative of movement of time and place.

Guy Peploe, one of the gallery’s directors and a relative of the Scottish colourist Samuel John Peploe, said: “We are thrilled with the Duncan Shanks exhibition.

“He has been exhibiting with us since the late 1960s and his contribution to Scottish painting is very significant.

“He is an expressionist who paints from the heart.

“His landscapes are very strong in colour and very powerful.

“But these are not just pretty pictures – they are a story of life and death, the changing of the seasons and regeneration.”

The 175 Years of Art Pins and Paintings is a show of 37 selected artists painting on 175mm x 175mm canvas and a further 45 who have crafted one-off decorative pins emulating their practice on a small scale.

Over 100 artists have created special celebratory works as paintings, pins, prints, photography and ceramics for the aptly-titled A Birthday Celebration: Small Works of Art.

Guy said: “This is not a new idea in art terms, but we’ve never done it before.

“We had a great response from our artists, most of whom stuck to the uniform scale of 17.5 square inches to echo our anniversary.

“We’ve had a lovely imaginative response.

“The Aberdeen artist Barry McGlashan, for example, painted our founder Aitken Dott – a bald, bearded Victorian gentleman in his workshop. It’s very nice.

“We’ve got what we wanted – the works to be typical of each artist but scaled right down.”

The Portrait of a Gallery exhibition will give a flavour of what’s contained in a commemorative book about the Scottish Gallery.

Guy added: “Having been at the forefront of Scottish art for 175 years, the story of the gallery marches alongside the history of Scottish art.

“The book, which should be arriving this week, is 300 pages and is a lovely commemorative edition, one that will certainly remain relevant – at least until our 200th anniversary in 25 years time!”

* An outdoor installation is also running to celebrate the anniversary year.

The Sound of Iona is the first site-specific installation from sculptor Lucy Gray, representing a journey through the sounds of Iona

The director added: “It’s mesmerising and almost haunting sitting as it does in our triangular garden in the heart of the New Town of Edinburgh.”