The Best Art Galleries in Edinburgh

A visitor photographs Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Olive Trees’ (1889) at the National Gallery of Scotland
A visitor photographs Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Olive Trees’ (1889) at the National Gallery of Scotland | © Michael Doolittle / Alamy Stock Photo
Charlotte Barbour

Contributor

From oil paintings to abstract installations, Edinburgh’s galleries showcase works that will stay with you long after you leave. Whether you’re drawn to traditional or contemporary art, prefer a sculpture over a sketchbook or can’t get enough of all things abstract, Edinburgh’s melting pot of galleries can whet the appetite of any art lover. Ranging from grandeur to minimalist, their architecture reflects the shifting representation of art throughout the ages. While new visitors to Edinburgh might be tempted to visit only the city’s oldest and most striking buildings, it is very much worthwhile stepping into the city’s hidden gems. Read on to discover where to soak up the best of Edinburgh’s impressive art scene.

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The Fine Art Society

The Fine Art Society is one of the world’s oldest art dealerships, founded way back in 1876. Today, it includes two floors of gallery space, featuring Scottish paintings and sculptures from the 18th century to the present day. The gallery pioneered the idea of solo exhibitions, famously displaying James McNeill Whistler’s An Arrangement in White and Yellow in London in 1883. Since then, exhibitions in the Edinburgh location have spanned the artistic spectrum, offering everything from abstract sketches to historic oil paintings. Based on centrally located Dundas Street in the heart of New Town, this important site of Edinburgh’s art history is easily accessible and well worth a visit.

As one of Edinburgh’s most famous galleries, what hangs inside the Scottish National Gallery gives weight to its reputation. It is home to one of the best collections of fine art in the world, inviting visitors to wander among masterpieces by the likes of Botticelli, Rembrandt and Monet. However, the gallery’s most comprehensive collection covers the history of Scottish painting, representing internationally celebrated local figures such as Ramsay, Wilkie and McTaggart.

The Fruitmarket Gallery

Serving as a bustling produce market until 1974, the Fruitmarket Gallery displays exhibitions of acclaimed home-grown artists like Toby Paterson, Lucy Skaer and Tony Swain. The warm and welcoming space reflects the gallery’s commitment to making contemporary art accessible to everyone. Its location behind Waverley train station makes this a strong choice as your first port of call on an art tour of the city.

Stills

Stills burst onto Edinburgh’s gallery scene in 1977 and has built a reputation hosting thought-provoking photography exhibitions. It places a strong emphasis on supporting up-and-coming artists, often exhibiting photography by Edinburgh art graduates. Collections explore themes of identity, landscape, human migration and war, lending the gallery a more radical feel to many of its peers. Based right in the heart of the Old Town, peek into one of its free exhibitions to get to grips with Edinburgh’s political and national pulse.

The Open Eye Gallery

Open Eye is one of Scotland’s leading contemporary private art galleries, located just off Dundas Street in New Town. This former Georgian townhouse puts on around 32 exhibitions a year, focusing on contemporary, fine and applied art – including sculpture, ceramics and jewellery. Look out for the work of Rebecca Brown, whose ceramics are inspired by Scottish superstitions, and jewellery by Cristina Zani, who combines wood and precious metals to echo the diverse architecture of South Korea.

The Velvet Easel

The Velvet Easel is a contemporary art gallery with a focus on modern, conceptual exhibits. Among them are the works of Jonathan Stockley, famous for his charcoal sketches of neglected buildings and Zoë Rubens, whose sculptures reflect ideas of politics and power. This venue is based in the beachside community of Portobello, a location that adds to its relaxed, non-pretentious atmosphere.
This is an updated version of a story by Marian Shek.

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