Scotland’s busy cultural calendar includes regular exhibitions that take place at museums across the country, with no let-up during the country’s notoriously bracing winter period.
With winter seeing temperatures plummet, there’s added incentive for visitors to Scotland to find indoor entertainment. It’s one of the reasons why the country’s cultural scene is perhaps at its most vibrant during this time of year, evidenced by the large number of exhibitions hosted in museums and other cultural venues throughout the nation. Here are 12 of the best that are running over the coming weeks and months.
Legacies of Empire
Since the middle of the 20th century the taking of objects in war has been regulated under international law. However, collections made during the period of European colonial expansion from the 18th to the 20th century were under no such legal code, and as a consequence remain a source of great controversy and debate today. Using the insights of military and imperial history, this exhibition features objects that were taken, purchased or otherwise collected by British military and naval personnel during colonial wars or garrison service across the British Empire.
National War Museum, Edinburgh / Through 21 January 2024
Tackling TB: Dundee Scientists Fighting the Killer
Verdant Works tells the story of Dundee’s industrial textile heritage in the atmospheric setting of a beautifully refurbished Mill building. Among its winter exhibitions running through to next year will be Tackling TB, which chronicles one of the most deadly infections the world has ever known. Through a range of exhibits, visitors can explore how TB affected the mill workers of 19th-century Dundee and how it still impacts millions of people worldwide today.
Verdant Works, Dundee / Through 1 April 2024
David Hockney: Drawing from Life
The exhibition explores the work of English painter David Hockney, one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century. It features his works from over the last six decades through his intimate portraits of five sitters: his mother, Celia Birtwell, Gregory Evans, Maurice Payne and the artist himself. His familiarity with the sitters enables him to work with a range of mediums and styles, from pencil, pen and ink, and crayon, to photographic collage and the iPad. The exhibition will also debut a selection of over thirty new portraits, depicting friends and visitors to the artist’s Normandy studio between 2021 and 2022.
National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh / Through 21 January 2024
The Man Who Could Paint Anything – The Legacy of Thomas Stuart Smith
The 19th-century Scottish artist Thomas Stuart Smith was both an accomplished painter and an avid art collector and benefactor. Known as the ‘man who could paint anything’, he would turn his hand from landscape to portraiture, from still life to seascapes, at the drop of a hat. The artworks on display in this exhibition are part of Smith’s legacy which enables the Stirling Smith Art Gallery to continue the tradition which the artist began of collecting some of the world’s finest contemporary art.
The Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum, Stirling / Through 1 January 2028
The artworks in this exhibition all focus on trees, a plant form which sustains the existence of ourselves and other species. It features work by eight contemporary artists – Dalziel + Scullion, Anya Gallaccio, Andy Goldsworthy, Andrew Mackenzie, Naomi Mcintosh, Katie Paterson and Hanna Tuulikki. Together, they explore the relationship between people and the natural environment, using a variety of media and approaches. Some of the works reflect on current ecological issues, while others explore our fragile coexistence with nature and capture its beauty.
18 November 2023 – 25 February 2024 / City Art Centre, Edinburgh
Pattern of Place
Inspired by days spent in nature, Scottish artist Debbie Lee has gained acclaim for her recreation of landscapes of the far North of Scotland in paint, collage and thread. Working from initial sketches, she builds up exquisite multi-layered pictures, starting her process with painting, followed by collages of textiles and paper before the detail is defined with machine embroidery and hand-stitching. This exhibition showcased several of her works, each collaged and sewn together to create modern landscape pictures for the home.
Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, Inverness / 2 December 2023 – 13 January 2024
Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2024
First launched in 1965 to showcase images which capture fascinating animal behaviour, spectacular species and the breathtaking diversity of the natural world, today the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition receives tens of thousands of entries from across the globe. Recently, during an intense week at the Natural History Museum in London, this year’s entries were judged anonymously by a panel of experts. Now, a selection of the finest entries are being taken on an international tour, including a six-month stint at the National Museum of Scotland from mid-January, demonstrating photography’s unique emotive power to engage and inspire audiences, shine a light on stories and species around the world, and encourage a future of advocating for the planet.
National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh / 20 January – 6 May 2024
For many years, artist Mike McDonnell lived and worked on Yell, one of the North Isles of Shetland, Scotland, where his quirky, irreverent work echoed the Shetland propensity for poking fun at local politicians – and each other. Exploring themes including Ships and the Sea; The Fishing; Education and Inspiration; Politics and Religion; Musical Recycling; and Green Themes, this exhibition showcases the diversity of McDonnell’s work as an artist, community artist, informal educator and creative initiator.
Shetland Museum & Archives, Shetland / 25 November – 30 December 2023
Decades | The Art of Change 1900–1980
This exhibition takes visitors on a journey through 80 years of art, from 1900 to the 1970s. Spanning a period of dramatic change, moving from the birth of the motorcar to the dawn of the space race, each work on display is drawn from the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art’s extensive and hugely prestigious collection. The exhibition is divided into six chapters, each speaking of a particular moment from across the 20th century, when artists rebelled against the previous generation, creating works which came to characterise a period.
Modern Two, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh / Through 7 January 2023
In Safe Hands: The Battle for Midwifery
Chronicling the story of midwifery and obstetrics through the centuries, this exhibition explores how the perception of childbirth changed from being simply a life event into something requiring medical oversight. Traditionally women naturally took on the role of safely delivering a baby, but the new ‘medicalised’ model saw the rise of the male midwife from around the 18th century. The exhibition highlights Edinburgh’s contribution to the development of the profession and how this has evolved into modern practices.
Surgeons’ Hall Museums, Edinburgh / Through Easter 2024
Shifting Vistas: 250 Years of Scottish Landscape
For centuries, the Scottish landscape has been a source of inspiration for artists. From scenes of mountains and forests to images of lochs and coastlines, the natural world attracts a range of creative responses. Today our relationship with the landscape has taken on further significance, with environmental concerns over climate change and loss of biodiversity. This exhibition addresses this ever-evolving subject, with a selection of historic and contemporary artworks drawn from the City Art Centre’s permanent collection of fine art.
City Art Centre, Edinburgh / Through 2 June 2024
Windrush Legacy Creative Reflections
Scottish Caribbean writers Jeda Pearl and Courtney Stoddart have co-curated this exhibition of poetry, prose and artworks that celebrate and pay homage to the Windrush Generation, the Belizean lumberjacks and Caribbean people who came before and after 1948, and their descendants who made their homes in Scotland. The exhibition features new work by Pearl and Stoddart, alongside local contributors, including professional artists, authors, people new to creating art, and their families.
Museum of Edinburgh / Through 28 January 2024