Art exhibition: Ages of Wonder – Scotland’s Art 1540 to Now
It includes famed artists who found their creative inspiration in old Caledonia, or have their works permanently on display in Scotland, such as the masterpiece The Adoration of the Kings by Italian Jacopo Bassano, purchased by the RSA in the late nineteenth century.
Like his Renaissance contemporaries, Bassano’s work depicts the virgin and child with their court in wondrous colour and was created in 1540 and gives the exhibition its starting point.
The collection is on a large scale and combines works transferred to the National Collection in 1910 with those collected up to the present. It is a culmination of a partnership between the Royal Scottish Academy and the National Galleries of Scotland in collaboration with the universities of St Andrews, Edinburgh and Dundee.
Ages of Wonder lives up to its name and is the largest collections exhibition that the RSA has mounted and takes up the entire building.
This is art with a lot of heart, nothing stuffy here and the fresh look of the galleries’ interiors makes for a lively viewing experience. As well as Renaissance and Neo-Classical pieces, the schools of cubism, Dada and Surrealism all feature, all executed in various mediums including some pieces of modern sculpture.
Works by McTaggart and Raeburn represent traditional art. While eye catchers include Victoria Crowe’s figurative landscape Into An Older Land depicted in oil on linen.
There is something here for everyone with purists perhaps drawn to the more traditional pieces.
Nineteenth century Aberdeen-born artist William Dyce’s Francesca da Rimini features ill-fated lovers from Dante’s Inferno, capitalising on the artist’s time in Rome and executed in Edinburgh. Dyce was very influenced by neo-classicism and romanticism and this is a beautiful piece.
Joyce Winifred Cairn’s vivid canvas Polish Journey depicts the Holocaust experience through the symbolism of hanging dolls and wartime memorabilia.
In a change of tone, a fun interactive piece Vivam by Marion Smith and Deryn Rees-Johns invites art lovers to put on a pair of white gloves and remove panels from a little casket that looks like a small shed. Each panel contains a little poem.
The Lower Gallery features The Artist’s Studio by photographer Calum Colvin – who is in residence twice a week – as well as screenprint and lithography and etchings on ES Lumsden’s historic press.
A stunning triptych from Greenock-born artist and playwright John Byrne’s Smoking Beach Boy is a big bold statement in three segments depicting a reclining African youth under a splendid sky smoking a cigar.
The beauty and innovation of this show is that it invites participation on many levels.
Visitors on a Thursday can view pop-up life drawing classes led by George Donald, the RSA’s expert in anatomy with guest tutors including Byrne, Jennifer McRae and Robert Rivers.
Indeed members of the public may well be invited to step up to an easel and it is worth keeping an eye out for other scheduled events including talks and discussions, artists showing off their etchings, yes that’s right, and live photography from Calum Colvin.
‘Ages of Wonder – Scotland’s Art 1540 to Now’ is a free exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh until 7 January