top of page

The MacKinnon Collection at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Courage. Perseverance. Innovation.

These are words that come to mind when exploring the latest exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery- 'Scotland's Photograph Album: The MacKinnon Collection'. It is a joint exhibition put together by the National Galleries Scotland and the National Library of Scotland. The exhibition points out that it "is the first in a series of programmes that will open 'Scotland's photograph album' to the people, events, and innovations that continue to affect our lives today". Overall, it is a fantastic collection of photographs from 1840-1940 where you can get glimpses into Scotland's past and the many facets of life. Please note that photo credit for all historical pictures in this article are from the Scottish National Portrait Gallery: the MacKinnon Collection.

After a few visits to the Collection, there are a few favourites that shone through for me. First, while there are photographs of many different subjects and topics, what I enjoyed the most are the people. As a storyteller, I am interested in those that have contributed to the history of Scotland.

What is particularly interesting about the exhibition is that we can make some interesting parallels to today's social media culture. Similar to the way life is displayed through online pictures in current times, throughout the MacKinnon Collection, there are also people posing and looking their best. At the same time, there are also depictions of more realistic portrayals of everday life.

Scottish Suffragettes Marching

One theme that I appreciated due to its important historical significance were the photographs illustrating the important role that women have had in Scottish history. There are photos that capture women during landmark historical events such as the Suffragettes or women working in the Glasgow munitions factories during the wars. However, there are also the everyday events that are just as important. For example, the Newhaven fishwives and their critical role in the fishing industry (you can read more about this in our article on Newhaven). There are also photographs on display that were taken by women who were pioneers in the field of photography.

Newhaven Fishwives Hauling their Creels

Another fascinating facet is that, during this time period, sitting for a portrait eventually became more affordable for more people (and not just the upper classes). There are photographs in the Collection of luminaries as well as regular citizens; a real cross-section of Scottish life. Therefore, we have pictures of David Livingstone and Rennie Mackintosh, but also pictures of newly married couples who were not famous but were looking to document an important moment in their lives together.

Sculptor, John Steell

There are also fun connections that we can make with some of our past blog posts. There is a photograph of Abbottsford -Walter Scott's former home in the Borders. Additionally, there is one of the sculptor, John Steell, who created the statue of Scott under one of the most famous monuments ever built to a writer (more on that here). There is also a beautiful picture of Rosslyn Chapel as well as the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow.

Rosslyn Chapel
Glasgow Botanic Gardens

Throughout the exhibition there is a wonderful array of photographs that illustrate various aspects of life in Scotland that have now become mere memories. For example, there are some beautiful shots that were taken of the closes and wynds in Glasgow and Edinburgh before they were demolished. They help to provide brief glimpses into a way of life that is no longer a reality. As our family is in the business of providing walking tours of Edinburgh, we understand the importance of these photographs for the historical record. It is necessary to have an honest look at the past to understand its cultural significance in the present. With that in mind, here are a couple more of my favourites:

'Close No. 37, High Street' in Glasgow
'Close No.'s 97 and 103, Saltmarket' in Glasgow

One particular section displays photographs that highlight Scotland's innovative nature and celebrate the role played in a few different industries. For example, there is a photo of the iconic Forth Bridge being built. Nearby you can see the now famous Queen Mary ship in construction at John Brown & Co., Clydebank. Scotland's leading role in telecommunications is also featured with a photograph of John Logie Baird- the Scottish inventor responsible for the colour television. It is nice to see that the curators provided some photographs of such momentous occassions in Scottish history.

If you are interested in learning more and viewing the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, be sure to head over as it is on display there until 13 April 2020. However, don't despair if you can't make it before then because this exhibition is only the first part of a "three-year project in which the National Galleries of Scotland and the National Library of Scotland are introducing the MacKinnon Collection to the public". According to the Portrait Gallery, from autumn 2020- spring 2021 the MacKinnon Collection will tour to three partner venues throughout Scotland. Check out the National Galleries' website or the National Library of Scotland for more information.

If you are interested in exploring some of Edinburgh's historical sites on a walking tour- please check out our homepage.

Until next time- Explore & Discover!


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page