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Edinburgh’s City Art Centre: Celebrating Scottish Art

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”- Pablo Picasso

Long-time readers of this blog know how the Wee Walking Tours family are strong advocates for access to the arts in galleries and museums. Therefore, this week we are proud to bring you on a wee virtual visit to the City Art Centre here in Edinburgh.

Conveniently located near Waverley Station in the city centre, the City Art Centre- a Museums and Galleries Edinburgh venue- has been welcoming visitors at its current location on Market Street since 1980. The building dates to the turn of the 20th century but was renovated when it was decided to move the City Art Centre there (formerly located in the old Royal High School).

The exterior of the City Art Centre is beautifully designed in the Beaux Arts style. Thankfully, the buildings original stonework and wrought-iron metal frame windows were preserved during the renovations.

Upon entering the open and expansive lobby, you get glimpses of its former life as a warehouse (at one point it was part of the city’s fruit markets). The Centre’s shop is also located here and has a variety of art-related items for sale.

The City Art Centre explains that their “aim is to champion historic and contemporary Scottish visual and applied arts”. They highlight how their collection is diverse and ranges “from civic portraiture to contemporary abstraction. It continues to grow, using a generous bequest left to the City in the 1960s, with a focus on acquiring contemporary work as well as filling historic gaps”.

Unfortunately, but understandably, photography and videoing are not allowed inside the exhibitions due to copyright laws. Therefore, our photos are a bit limited in this article. However, we would like to share some of the current exhibition offerings so that you can plan a visit if you are here in Edinburgh this winter.

Located on the first floor, the City Art Centre is currently hosting the exhibition- E.A. Hornel: From Camera to Canvas. In addition to his art undertaken in Scotland, Hornel was inspired by his travels to Japan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar. According to information provided, “Hornel chose subject matter for his paintings based on photos, used them to inspire his compositions and even copied imagery directly from photographic prints and slides”. A closer look reveals themes of power and privilege that are important for us to examine and are especially relevant in our current times. The exhibition is being show until 14 March 2021.

We next head up to the 2nd and 3rd floors for the exhibition, Jock McFadyen Goes to the Pictures. According to City Art Centre curator, Maeve Toal, this major exhibition “displays new and existing paintings, paired alongside works from the City Art Centre’s collection of historic and contemporary Scottish art…Through a series of fascinating pairings, the exhibition encourages viewers to take a closer look. Works that might initially seem unrelated reveal unexpected connections and relationships”. The exhibition is on display until 11 April 2021.

Last, but certainly not least, is the exhibition, Bright Shadows: Scottish Art in the 1920s. This was my personal favourite of the three currently on show as I find the art history of this period particularly fascinating. The City Art Centre highlights how, “the 1920s was a period of contrasts: high spirits interwoven with sombre contemplation; grand aspirations tempered by hard realities. Scotland’s artists experienced these contrasts, and reflected them in their work”. Certainly there are some parallels that can be drawn to our current trying times.

For me, what particularly stands out in this exhibition were the female artists who were trying to assert themselves in a world that was dominated by men at the time. Additionally, I appreciated seeing paintings that connected to and featured the Edinburgh landscape. For example, Katherine Cameron’s painting, Moonrise Over St Giles (1929) is particularly haunting. The etching, National Gallery and Castle, Edinburgh (1925) by Nicol Laidlaw was quite intriguing as it captured the construction of the Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle which was designed by Robert Lorimer.

The last painting, I would like to mention from the Bright Shadows exhibition has an interesting connection to last week’s article. A Glass of Milk (1923) by Stanley Cursiter showcases his “refined, naturalistic approach” to still life arrangements. However, what is fascinating to learn about Cursiter is that, in addition to being an artist, he also had a parallel career in gallery administration. In 1925, he became Keeper of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. He went on to become the Director of the National Galleries of Scotland in 1930. Bright Shadows: Scottish Art in the 1920s, is on display until 6 June 2021.

Before you leave the City Art Centre, be sure to pop into the fabulous adjoining café- Mimi’s Bakehouse. Mimi’s has locations all over Edinburgh (they also deliver so be sure to check out their website for more information), but this is one of my favourites. Currently, they are offering a special (until the end of December) where, if you show your booking from the City Art Centre, you can get a free coffee with the purchase of a food item. Well, that was a special we couldn’t pass up, and we are always pleased with Mimi’s baked goods. Along with our coffee, this time we got the Toblerone traybake and a Bounty brownie and they were positively delicious! We highly recommend you stop by Mimi’s Bakehouse at the City Art Centre for lovely views and food.

Well, that concludes our visit to the City Art Centre here in Edinburgh. We hope you have enjoyed your visit and we highly recommend that you make a trip there and take the time to explore all it has to offer when you visit Edinburgh. It is currently open with advance booking required. Please be sure to check their website for the most current information on how to plan your visit.

If you are planning a visit to Edinburgh- or simply looking for ways to explore more of the wonderful museums here- please check out our articles on some of the other sites that are part of Museums and Galleries Edinburgh. Head down to the Canongate and learn a bit more about the history of the people of Edinburgh at The People’s Story Museum. Or step back in time to explore Edinburgh from years past at The Museum of Edinburgh. The Writers’ Museum is a fun visit for those wanting to learn a bit more about some of Scotland’s most famous writers. Speaking of which, consider scaling the heights of the Scott Monument and ‘meet’ the man who it honours. Perhaps you are looking to relive some childhood fun? If so, we share some of our pixie dust to help you with your visit to the Museum of Childhood.

If you have enjoyed this article and others on our blog, a wonderful way to support us is simply by subscribing (on our blog homepage) and sharing our articles with others. We have some fantastic adventures planned for the coming year so please be sure to also follow us (and encourage your friends to as well) on our various social media channels- Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest.

It is a bit of an understatement to say that 2020 has been a difficult year. However, we count our blessings that we are healthy because we know this isn’t the case for so many. Despite these difficult times, we are fortunate we have been able to continue our work virtually as we try to safely navigate the horrendous pandemic that has affected all of us. We’ve tried our absolute best to help bring a little bit of Edinburgh and Scotland virtually to all of you, and we will continue to do so as we get ready to ring in a new year.

Therefore, as we close 2020, our wish for all of you is to be safe and healthy. We ask you to continue to hold on to the hope that we all have been clinging to this year. We will get through this, but we must do it together. Above all, remember the importance of showing kindness to others- it is always a winning formula for success.

We look forward to the time when we can all start travelling again safely and guide guests on our Edinburgh walking tours. Sawyer, our Golden Retriever tour guide, has been patiently waiting to greet visitors with the love, kindness, and enthusiasm that he never fails to show all who come his way. See you in 2021!

Until next time- Explore & Discover!


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