Neighbouring galleries bridge gap after 150 years

A project costing £30m to transform two galleries at the centre of Scottish artistic life will open to the public today.

The Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) building in Edinburgh has been completely refurbished and turned it into a world-class gallery capable of receiving the best of international exhibitions as part of the first phase of development.

And the second part, unveiled by the Duke of Edinburgh yesterday, and completed eight months ahead of schedule, links the RSA with its neighbour, the National Gallery of Scotland, with a building that also houses a range of visitor facilities.

The galleries, which lie between Edinburgh's Old and New Towns on The Mound, are part of the National Galleries of Scotland; both are imposing neo-classical temples designed by William Playfair, the Royal Scottish Academy in 1822 and the Scottish National Gallery 28 years later.

The new link, named after the Weston baking dynasty, which gave a significant contribution to the scheme, houses facilities including an IT gallery, education rooms, a shop, the galleries' first café and a 120-seat restaurant, which will be open late into the evening.

Michael Clarke, director of the National Gallery of Scotland, said: "This is the most ambitious project ever undertaken by the galleries and, in many ways, the most demanding. Its completion will transform the facilities we shall be able to offer to our visitors from Scotland and around the world."

Visitor numbers are expected to rise considerably as a result of the easy - and weather-proof - flow between the permanent collections housed in the National Gallery and the temporary exhibitions in the RSA.

The National Gallery had around 435,000 visitors last year, a 20 per cent increase on the year before. The RSA received 275,000 visitors in the first 11 months after re-opening in August last year with a show on Monet and the sea which proved a hit; a new exhibition, "The Age of Titian", opens today.

Although the bulk of the £30m for the project, known as Playfair, has been collected, fund-raising is continuing until the end of the year.

Sir Tom Farmer, the founder ofKwik-Fit, yesterday gave £500,000 on top of a previous £100,000 donation, making him the most generous individual Scottish donor to the scheme. He said: "The project opens the opportunity for many more people, especially children and young people, to access the galleries and discover the wonders of the art world."

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