The national portrait gallery Scotland


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1st December 2011 − 31st December 2013 | Scottish National Portrait Gallery

George Jamesone: Scotland’s First Portrait Painter



George Jamesone (1589/90-1644) is a key figure in the development of portrait painting in Scotland.  He was the first great native-born artist in a profession dominated by foreigners.

Born in Aberdeen, Jamesone served his apprenticeship in Edinburgh as a painter of decorative interiors before returning to his native city and setting up a studio.  In Aberdeen and Edinburgh Jamesone painted people from various walks of life: aristocrats, academics, lawyers and merchants.  Jamesone also completed major commissions, including an entire series of portraits of friends and family for his important patron Sir Colin Campbell, and a set of Scottish monarchs, painted for Charles I’s official entry into Edinburgh in 1633.

Jamesone’s success as a portrait painter made him wealthy – he bought houses and estates and planted a pleasure garden to the west of Aberdeen.  When Jamesone died in 1644 he was widely mourned. The poet David Wedderburn wrote a Latin lament which emphasised his social and cultural achievements, describing the artist as ‘that most illustrious gentleman, George Jamesone of Aberdeen, the eminent painter’.

George Jamesone, 1589 / 1590 – 1644.


He is advertising his skills in the background he shows off his portraits as well sea scapes.


he creates the feeling of confidence. By showing his work on the background I feel I would be comfortable giving him work.

James MacMillan, b. 1959. Composer 1996

  • Scottish Art
  • Portrait of the Month


Alexander Nasmyth


This half-length portrait of Burns, framed within an oval, has become the most well-known and widely reproduced image of the famous Scottish poet. Nasmyth’s painting, commissioned by the publisher William Creech, was to be engraved for a new edition of Burn’s poems. He is shown fashionably dressed against a landscape, evoking his rural background in Alloway, Ayrshire. Burns and Nasmyth had become good friends, having been introduced to one another in Edinburgh by a mutual patron, Patrick Miller of Dalswinton. Nasmyth, pleased to have recorded Burns’ likeness convincingly, decided to leave the painting in a slightly unfinished state.

  • Accession no. PG 1063
  • Medium Oil on canvas
  • Size 38.40 x 32.40 cm (framed: 63.50 x 57.00 x 9.00 cm)
  • Credit Bequeathed by Colonel William Burns 1872




When the Scottish National Portrait Gallery commissioned Calum Colvin to create a portrait of the composer, James MacMillan, Colvin visited the composer in his Glasgow home to see where and how he worked. He then built a set in his Edinburgh studio which included references to MacMillan’s work and character. In this portrait we can spot the model for the stage set for MacMillan’s first full-length opera, Ines de Castro, which he was composing at the time; the manuscripts of the opening and closing bars of the piece; as well as references to his Roman Catholic faith and passionate support of Glasgow Celtic Football Club.


Van Gogh and Britain | Pioneer Collectors

  • 7th July − 24th September 2006 | Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art | Tickets £6 (£4)

About The Show

‘Maniacs or pioneers?’ This was the press reaction in 1910 to the work of Van Gogh and his contemporaries. At the London exhibition Manet and the Post-Impressionists Van Gogh was described as a ‘lunatic’ and his pictures judged to be ‘of no interest except to the student of pathology and the specialist in abnormality’. Despite the controversy surrounding the works on show, a number of pioneer British collectors went on to embrace these artistic revolutionaries and purchased – often for unbelievably small sums – what have become highlights of major art collections around the world.

This exhibition presents a selection of paintings that were acquired by Scottish, Welsh and English collectors from only a few years after Van Gogh’s death until the beginning of the Second World War. Although their taste was predominantly for the more expressive work of Van Gogh’s two years in Provence and his final weeks at Auvers, there is also a representative group of works from his early career in Holland and Paris.

Van Gogh had an important connection with Scotland through the Glasgow dealer Alexander Reid, with whom he shared an apartment in Paris. You will see from the two portraits on show why they were often mistaken for twins.

The woman’s headdress frames her face, and stands out from the dark background of this small picture. It is one of a series of studies Van Gogh made in connection with a larger painting ‘The Potato Eaters’ (Vincent van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam), completed in May 1885. Largely self-taught Van Gogh was inspired, in these early paintings of Dutch peasants, by the realism of Millet and Courbet. They are dark and sombre in mood, reflecting his models’ harsh lives. He painted them while living with his parents in Nuenen, South Holland.


This serene skater is thought to be the Reverend Robert Walker, minister of the Canongate Kirk and a member of the Edinburgh Skating Society. The club – the oldest of its kind in Britain – usually met on the frozen lochs of Duddingston or Lochend on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Walker’s pose, as he glides across the ice, looks effortless, but would have been recognised by fellow skaters as a difficult and sophisticated manoeuvre. This small picture, showing a figure in action, is quite unlike other known portraits by Raeburn.


  • Accession no. NG 2112
  • Medium Oil on canvas
  • Size 76.20 x 63.50 cm
  • Credit Purchased 1949

Me; By blurring the background it makes the character stand out more


Palma Giovane (Jacopo Palma Il Giovane) (Italian (Venetian), about 1548 – 1628)

Palma was born into a Venetian family of artists. His father Antonio ran a successful workshop, and his great uncle was the renowned painter Palma Vecchio. In spite of this, Palma Giovane was virtually self-taught. In 1567 he caught the eye of the Duke of Urbino, whose patronage allowed him to study in Rome. There, Palma embraced the practice of making preparatory drawings (disegno), a custom that was traditionally associated with central Italy. He returned to Venice in the mid-1570s, where his blend of naturalism and moderate Mannerist exaggeration became popular. Palma’s work increasingly reflected his appreciation of the Venetian masters, particularly Jacopo Tintoretto. Following Tintoretto’s death in 1594, Palma became the city’s leading painter.

Self-Portrait about 1614

The Latin inscription at the bottom of this drawing states that it was drawn on 15 December 1614. Although the handwriting does not belong to Palma there is no reason to doubt its accuracy, as the style and appearance are consistent with his other self-portraits. This introspective portrait displays Palma’s ability to capture his own psychological state; his intense gaze and relaxed expression accurately convey the expression of a man absorbed in self-study. In many ways this pre-empts the introspective self-portraits by artist of later centuries such as Rembrandt and Vincent van Gogh. Here, Palma experimented with coloured chalks, a medium which he used only occasionally. Similarly, Van Gogh would frequently use his own image when experimenting with an unfamiliar technique or effect.

Three Oncologists (Professor RJ Steele, Professor Sir Alfred Cuschieri and Professor Sir David P Lane of the Department of Surgery and Molecular Oncology, Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, by Ken Currie (2002)

The men represented in this painting are professors in the Department of Surgery and Molecular Oncology at Ninewells Hospital and Medical School in Dundee. The Head of Department and Professor of Surgery, Sir Alfred Cuschieri, is in the centre. Sir David Lane, Professor of Molecular Oncology is on the right. On the left is surgeon Professor Steele. All three men appear to have been disturbed in the middle of their duties: Professor Steele has blood on his hands and Sir Alfred Cuschieri is holding a medical implement. The luminous quality of the paint makes the figures look almost ghostly, expressing the sense of horror and anxiety associated with cancer.


The cancer specialists are all suffering from cancer themselves. By paining the specialists the painting the image allows people to face their fears.


Charles II, 1630 – 1685. King of Scots 1649 – 1685. King of England and Ireland 1660 – 1685 (When Prince of Wales, with a page)


Painted during the Civil Wars between Parliament and Charles I, the portrait shows a young prince as a military hero confident of victory. Charles, Prince of Wales, the eldest son of the king, holds a commander’s baton in his right hand and places his other hand on a helmet, held by his page. In the left corner of the picture, the hideous head of Medusa, symbol of strife, stares out, literally petrifying the enemy. In the distant background, a battle rages. The painting probably commemorates Charles’s presence at the Battle of Edgehill in 1642.


The battle in the background is propaganda giving an image of him positive and strong and yet he had not yet been in any war.


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