International festival; VISUAL ARTS Gerhard Richter; Precious Cargo; The Scottish Colourists; George Houston

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One of the odder features of the official Edinburgh Festival in recent years has been its complete failure to embrace the visual arts. There was a time when a major exhibition was one of the highlights of the programme, but for some years now the town's galleries have been left outside the celebrations.

Happily, this lack of interest hasn't stopped Edinburgh's museums and commercial galleries from mounting some fine exhibitions under their own steam, but it does mean that there's little focus or sense of communal purpose behind most of the art on show. This year is no exception. Besides the four exhibitions staged by the National Galleries of Scotland (already reviewed in these pages), there are at least 70 others scattered throughout the town with barely a link between them.

Gerhard Richter, who shows at the Fruitmarket Gallery, is probably Germany's best known living artist, famous for his blurry view of the world. This is an ambitious survey of his Multiples, by which they mean every editioned picture and object that he has made since 1965, including photographs, prints, books, a couple of sculptures and even a few oil paintings in editions of 110. Sadly we are only shown one of each, so there's no telling if or how these supposedly identical paintings differ.

The first work that one sees is one of the earliest and also the best: Pyramid from 1966, an out-of-focus view of the Egyptian landscape, very simple and solid and strangely moving. At the other end of the exhibition, one of Richter's most celebrated images, a painting of his daughter Betty (a painting that he made to replicate a photograph) has been made into a photographic print: it began as a photograph, it became a painting, it turned back into a photograph. All very clever, if printing processes are your thing, but I suspect that his motivation may be as much financial as artistic. More pictures: more sales. It's no accident that Richter is Germany's most successful living artist.

Money is also at the centre of Precious Cargo, an exploration (at the Royal Museum) of 300 years of trade between Scotland and China. It's a clever show, beautifully presented with displays disguised as packing cases, but behind the inventive staging there are some fairly ordinary objects, which in a way is the point. These are the things that Scots merchants brought back from their travels to the East: silks and fans and porcelain dinner services. The star of the show is a run of hand-painted, 18th-century wallpaper depicting the waterfront trading houses at Canton.

Closer to home, the four painters known as the "Scottish Colourists" have been one of Scotland's most reliable artistic exports for many years. For this year's festival, Glasgow dealer Ewan Mundy has teemed up with Edinburgh's Scottish Gallery to present a good selection of Colourist paintings and watercolours at the Randolph Gallery. Oddly, the best things in the show are those with least colour: a dark Still Life with Melon by Leslie Hunter and a muted Torso and Aspidistra by SJ Peploe. It's probably the best of this year's commercial shows, but there are many others worth visiting, not least Bourne Fine Art's tribute to George Houston, a painter of pleasing landscapes from the early years of the century and as resolutely Scottish an artist as ever there was.

Gerhard Richter: The Fruitmarket Gallery, 45 Market Street (0131-225 2383) Precious Cargo: The Royal Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street (0131-225 7534) The Scottish Colourists: The Randolph Gallery, 10 Randolph Crescent (0131-225 8851) George Houston: Bourne Fine Art, 6 Dundas Street (0131-557 4050)

Richard Ingleby

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