National Galleries of Scotland breaks visitor record

Lucy Askew, senior curator at Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art at the Lichtenstein exhibition.   Picture: Greg Macvean
Lucy Askew, senior curator at Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art at the Lichtenstein exhibition. Picture: Greg Macvean
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THE National Galleries of Scotland has notched up its highest ever number of visitors and has reported passing the two million mark for the first time in its history.

Blockbuster shows featuring work by David Bailey, MC Escher, Lee Miller and Roy Lichtenstein were among the biggest draws throughout the course of 2015.

David Bailey with images from his exhibition. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

David Bailey with images from his exhibition. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

Visitor numbers rose 12.2 per cent in the space of a year across three flagship attractions in Edinburgh – the Scottish National Gallery, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

The overall tally of 2,148,242 – higher than the number of visitors who went to the National Museum of Scotland and Edinburgh Castle – has been revealed ahead of work getting under way next year on a £20 million overhaul of the main Scottish National Gallery complex on The Mound.

The long-awaited project, which will radically improve how highlights from the main Scottish collection are displayed, will create a new main entrance looking onto Princes Street Gardens and extend an existing precinct.

Last year’s exhibitions devoted to American pop-art pioneer Lichtenstein and Dutch artist Escher have been credited with visitor numbers at the modern art gallery soaring more than 40 per cent in the space of 12 months.

The Roy Lichtenstein exhibition proved a big hit. Picture: Greg Macvean

The Roy Lichtenstein exhibition proved a big hit. Picture: Greg Macvean

The Bailey exhibition featured more than 300 photographs and material from the legendary photographer’s own archives, while the Lee Miller show explored her relationship with Pablo Picasso, who she photographed more than 1000 times.

Other shows to open last year included Modern Scottish Women, the first major celebration of female artists staged by the National Galleries, which is due to run until June.

Work by Joan Eardley, Phoebe Anna Traquair and Anne Redpath are featured in the show, which covers an 80-year period.

John Leighton, director-General of the National Galleries, said: “We’re absolutely thrilled that visits have now surpassed two million for the first time in our history.

Anthony Penrose, Lee Miller's son, in front of a Picasso portrait of his father, and his father's photo of Picasso. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach

Anthony Penrose, Lee Miller's son, in front of a Picasso portrait of his father, and his father's photo of Picasso. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach

“This result reflects a growing interest in our collections, exhibitions and activities from local, national and international visitors and, as one of Scotland’s leading cultural institutions, we hope to build on this success in years to come.

“Our focus will remain on improving and promoting our collection, engaging with the public in new and exciting ways and developing both the strength and breadth of our yearly cultural programme.”

Manuela Calchini, regional director at national tourism agency VisitScotland, said: “This is fantastic news for the National Galleries of Scotland.

“Its attractions form a wonderful part of the capital’s cultural palette and help make the city the top-ranked destination for international visitors to Scotland. With the Scottish National Portrait Gallery featuring in an impressive line-up of events to celebrate the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design, we hope this rise in visitor numbers will continue in 2016.”

MC Escher's 'Eye', 1946

MC Escher's 'Eye', 1946

brian.ferguson@jpress.co.uk