Issue 196
Winter 2016

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Jun 25, 2017
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    Glorious milestone for an Edinburgh gallery

    A crowded private view for the gallery's 1983 Philipson show

    SPLENDIDLY SITUATED in Edinburgh's elegant New Town is The Scottish Gallery, Scotland's oldest privately owned commercial gallery. The title is fitting as the gallery is older than the National Galleries of Scotland, which first opened in 1859. The month of May marks the gallery's 175th anniversary and to celebrate, one hundred artists were invited to respond with a small work of art especially for the exhibition.

    Undergoing constant change, surviving for 175 years is a testament to the gallery's ability to adapt. Managing Director Christina Jansen says they feel lucky to still be operating:

    "We feel lucky to be here, and we don't take it for granted, as things can change at the drop of a hat."

    A royal visit from the Duke of Edinburgh.

    Indeed, Will Whitehorn, the chairman, confirms this: "One hundred and seventy five years of continuous trading is an astonishing achievement for a small company. The gallery is a living record and reflection of artistic and cultural evolution in Scotland." At a time of cultural and financial turbulence, the gallery has made a profit every year since 1994, with the exception of 2010.

    The gallery began life in South St David Street as a firm of 'Gilders, Framers and Artists' Colourmen' in May 1842. Trading as 'Aitken Dott & Son', it was founded by Aitken Dott, who was born in Cupar in 1915 where he was brought up. It then began exhibiting and selling work by Scotland's top contemporary artists.

    As the businness expanded it moved to Castle Street in 1860 and a dedicated gallery space opened up in 1897, run by the son, Peter McOmish Dott. McOmish Dott was a good businessman and an enlightened employer, devising a profit-sharing scheme for the employees and ensuring that the reputation of the firm grew.

    He was also a connoisseur with a tremendous knowledge of painting and aesthetics. It was his idea to create The Scottish Gallery to differentiate picture dealing from the other parts of the business. Since 1992, it has been on Dundas Street, specialising in national and international ceramics, glass, jewellery, metalwork, sculpture and sometimes textiles.

    At present the gallery has five full-time staff . "We're quite a small, specialist team," says Jansen. She emphasises that the gallery doesn't have a 'magic formula.'

    "The gallery focuses on contemporary and historical artists, and operates on an 'ideas first, business second' basis," she adds.

    "Art is our business – but it's very complex. It's not just an artwork that's for sale, it's a person, it's a way of life, it's a part of history and so on," Jansen believes.

    "One thing that's true is showing quality artists and staying true to certain values. That's worked for us so far."

    Describing art as "a bizarre area to work in," Jansen adds that The Scottish Gallery "can take calculated risks based on experience, but art is a 100 per cent risk so you don't know any month whether it's going to be successful or not."

    As in other forms of retail, e-commerce has become an increasingly important part of the gallery's operations and the gallery has embraced of the digital world.

    "Maintaining a state of the art website is vital and e-newsletter, tweets and Facebook updates are all part of our marketing mix to appeal to young and old," says Guy Peploe, the gallery's Director.

    "There is no 'order book' in the art world, no guarantee that anything will be sold! We try to have a mix of values as well as complementary exhibitors in every month of our changing programme to make sure we have the potential for profit.

    "Every year we will show new artists, coming from either recommendations, direct approaches or our own research. In March we held a show called 'First' of senior, mid-career and younger artists, all first time exhibitors in the gallery."

    The gallery has invested in the space, overseeing a complete physical upgrading of its Georgian rooms to balance the requirement to display both historic and contemporary work. Today the visitor will discover beautiful spaces over two floors including the sculpture garden.

    The gallery currently curates and produces a monthly programme of diverse exhibitions highlighting both emerging and established artists.

    Jansen says: "We have to be relevant, so that's what we're fighting for. Other things come and go, but you can have faith in us as a brand, that's what people buy into and we really believe in quality."

    To commemorate the anniversary, the gallery is showing three new exhibitions. Duncan Shanks – Winter Journey sees one of Scotland's finest landscape painters return to the gallery, joined by a collection of the gallery's current and significant artists in a unique exhibition of painted works and one-off pin artworks, 175 years of Art Pins and Paintings.

    Portrait of a Gallery II, builds on the successful show of 2010, showing important works of Scottish art, including paintings from The Landscape Tradition and The Scottish Colourists.


    Main picture above: a crowded private view for the gallery's 1983 Philipson show; left, a royal visit from the Duke of Edinburgh

    All three exhibitions: May 3 - June 3
    Call 0131 558 1200
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