History through Portraits – Source Material


Some notes on sources to accompany a five week course based at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and organised by the City of Edinburgh Council

Introductory Bibliography:A personal and highly selective choice:

  • Thomson, Duncan: History of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, National Galleries of Scotland, 2011 – excellent on the founding fathers, the objectives and embellishments of the gallery, its later history and collecting policy. Thomson was for many years Director of the SNPG.
  • Macdonald, Murdo: Scottish Art, London, Thames and Hudson 2000. A good art historical/historical overview, the text refers to many portraits on display at the SNPG. MacDonald is Professor of Scottish Art at the University of Dundee.
  • MacLean Fitzroy, Scotland, A Concise History, Thames and Hudson, most recent edition 2012. This readable overview to Scottish history has been republished on a number of occasions; contains additional chapters contributed by Magnus Linklater.
  • Devine, Professor Sir Thomas: The Scottish Nation 1700-2007, Penguin, revised edition 2012. Devine is perhaps Scotland’s greatest living historian. His account of the last three hundred years of Scottish History is scholarly and readable.
  • Maclean Fitzroy, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Edinburgh, Canongate, 1989.
  • Buchan:       The Marquis of Montrose, originally published 1913, republished, London, Prion 1996 – the first and shorter of Buchan’s two treatments.       Buchan was an unashamed admirer of Montrose.
  • Buchan:       The Lost Lady of Old Years, 1899, republished Edinburgh, Edinburgh Polygon 2011, with an introduction by James Robertson: a romantic work of fiction dwelling on the 1745 rebellion; contains a vivid portrait of the fickle Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat  (1667-1747)   (perhaps influenced by Hogarth’s etching  acquired by the portrait gallery in 1886?)

Biographical Material: An excellent starting point is the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. This is available online through the Edinburgh City Library.http://yourlibrary.edinburgh.gov.uk/oxfordreference You require to be a member of the city libraries (and have a membership number) in order to access this rich resource. At the foot of every individual entry in the ODNB, you will find a list of sources (typically biographies), liknenesses (portraits), archive material and wealth at time of death. There is a multi volume edition in hardcopy kept on the shelves of the General Reading Room at the National Library of Scotland. The online work is kept regularly up to date.imagesLYYYW2B3

Online collections: https://www.nationalgalleries.org/collection/online-collection/The Scottish National Galleries’ online collection is a wonderful source which will enhance a visit to any of the national galleries and  provide a useful research tool. It’s linked to the NGS galleries home page and allows you to search for portraits by either artist or subject. Its range is considerable; it includes virtually all the paintings and engravings which we have seen during the course.

Alastair’sblog: https://alastairlearmont.wordpress.com/Alastair started this in 2012 for research purposes but quickly realised its educational potential as a means of supplying notes to students. Many of the entries relate to adult education courses. The majority are of Scottish( and of particularly Edinburgh) cultural or historical interest. . A weekly History through Portraiture blogs including  photos of the exterior of the gallery  begins week beginning 2 March. A Visit to the Mud Bridge

5:   Exhibitions etc: 

A visit to the Scottish National Museum in Chamber Street complements a visit to the SNPG eg discrete sections on the Jacobites (includes the Young Pretender’s sword and some magnificent costume) and the North Berwick Witches ( which links into James VI’s interest in the occult)

The National Library of Scotland’s winter exhibition is entitled “Game of Crowns” and relates to the 1715 Jacobite rising.   You can find some interesting online material at http://www.nls.uk/exhibitions/jacobites . The exhibition closes in May.


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