Brief history: conceived as "a temple of the fine arts", the National is the principal, and the youngest, of Scotland's three major galleries. Built at a cost of pounds 50,000, it was the predecessor of the Royal Institution, and initially occupied the West Wing, sharing the premises with the Royal Academy. However, as the National's collection continued to increase, it became clear that it required more space. In 1903, it took over the whole building, and in 1912 it re-opened to the public in its present incarnation, with an extensive collection of everything from Torrie paintings and sculptures to 21 Monets.
The building: the neo-classical structure, designed by William Henry Playfair, sits at the heart of Edinburgh in the Mound causeway basin, linking the Old and New towns. During the Edinburgh Festival the site is inundated with market stalls, hair-wrappers and jugglers. Its original layout was re- designed in 1912 to unite the separate suites into a single gallery, creating a main entrance in the North Portico. The rather gloomy green- and-claret interior is said be necessary to preserve the quality of the paintings.
Identity: big on campaigning. In 1995, director Timothy Clifford spearheaded the effort to keep Canova's The Three Graces from being sold abroad, eventually persuading John Paul Getty II and a mystery Spanish baron to part with the necessary cash. Clifford has also worked hard to preserve free admission, relying heavily on the National Art Collections Fund. The Gallery tirelessly promotes Scottish artists, and has recently purchased pictures by Ramsay and Wilkie.
Current events: "Effigies and Ecstasies: Roman Baroque Sculpture and Design in the Age Of Bernini".
Getting there: it's a five-minute walk from Waverley Station.
Where to meet: there's no on-site cafe, but you could try Shenanigans bar on Waverley Bridge.
Price of a glass of wine: pounds 2 (at Shenanigans). Serena KutchinskyReuse content