As a national Museum, it was an ambitious and stretching challenge to create an art collection capturing the magnificent diversity and energy of our great seafaring nation in all its grit and glory. To do so with integrity and in a relevant, compelling way, we had to travel geographically and thematically around our vast coastline and across the centuries too.
In 2015, enabled by the generous support of the Heritage Lottery Fund Collecting Cultures programme, we rose to the challenge and set sail on our three year art acquisitions programme, ‘SMMart: Enriching the Imagery of Scotland's Maritime Heritage’.
It has been a tremendously exciting voyage of discovery and we have already achieved so much. Steered by the expertise and passion of our Curator of Art, Fiona Greer, whose appointment was also made possible by Collecting Cultures, and the SMMArt Committee chaired by Lynn Galbraith, we have created a remarkable collection and one which is already as important for the artists represented as the vibrant portrayal of Scottish maritime life.
With the kind support of the National Fund for Acquisitions and Art Fund, we have been able to maximise the potential of our Collecting Cultures award and acquire works by nationally significant artists such as Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell and Ian Hamilton Finlay.
Added to contemporary works by leading Scottish artists such as John Bellany, Benno Schotz and Will Maclean, the collection features scenes from the first World War by Sir Muirhead Bone and William Lionel Wyllie, acquired, meaningfully, during the centenary period. Look out for the display of William Lionel Wyllie works supported by the Art Fund in celebration of the Royal Academy’s 250th anniversary year.
Female artists include Sue Jane Taylor and Kate Downie. Their striking elemental scenes of life on an oil rig were created during residencies in the late 1980s, a rare experience for female artists at the time.
We are also grateful to those who embraced our vision and gifted works including ‘Propping through Riverside’ by Ann Nisbet and Patricia Cain; ‘Scottish Zulu’ by Ian Hamilton Finlay; and ‘Avoch Harbour’ by Tom Mabon.
Curator Fiona Greer with artist James Watt at Maritime Perspectives exhibition.
Altogether the new art collection takes visitors on an extraordinary voyage around our coastline. Here you will find the beauty and brutality of shipyard and oil rig life and haunting scenes of war and loss juxtaposed with tranquil fishing harbours, deserted island communities and travel ‘doon the watter’. Each piece rich with the depth and intensity of the chosen medium, whether oil, watercolour, sketch, photograph, sculpture or mixed media.
We are particularly proud that this collection is so contemporary in approach in complement to the wider Scottish Maritime Museum. Far from a traditional maritime art collection, it defies expectation and thrills at every turn. It offers up a new tableau of maritime life frame after frame, enriching our maritime heritage collection and enabling us to tell new stories and engage new audiences.
Going forward, the new art collection opens up endless possibilities. Indeed, it has already been a catalyst for major events, loans and temporary exhibitions including our award-winning illumination : Harbour Festival of Light; our first major art exhibition, ‘George Wyllie : Paper Boat’, in partnership with the George Wyllie Foundation; and the premiere of Lachlan Goudie’s acclaimed ‘Shipyard’ exhibition.
The lively programme of artist talks, life drawing, screenprinting, photography and storytelling workshops running alongside the exhibition also offers a taste of the engagement projects supporting our commitment to life-long learning and education now possible. Exciting times lie ahead.