One of two grand Neo-Classical edifices at the foot of the Mound in Edinburgh, designed by W.H. Playfair (1789 - 1857). The National Gallery lies behind the Royal Scottish Academy and was completed in 1854 on land gifted by the City Council for the Board of Manufactures, an arm of the government at the time responsible for public works and improvements. There are Ionic porticos on all four sides, but the grander are on the northern and southern aspects. Carefully hidden beneath is a subtle extension, built 1975-8, the windows of which can only just be seen from Waverley Bridge. The £30 million Playfair Project has provided new galleries underground, significantly extending the available exhibition space, together with a link to the Royal Scottish Academy building. This was opened by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh in August, 2004.
The Gallery incorporates Scotland's foremost collection of paintings, drawings and prints from the early Renaissance to the late 19th Century. Importantly the gallery includes the national collection of Scottish works by artists Allan Ramsay (1713-84), Henry Raeburn (1756 - 1823), David Wilkie (1784 - 1841) and William McTaggart (1835 - 1910). There is also the best collection of English and European masters outside London, including Constable, El Greco, Poussin, Raphael, Rembrandt, Reynolds, Rubens, Titian, Turner, van Dyck, Velazquez, Vermeer and the impressionists. The collection has been augmented by long-term loans of important works by the Duke of Sutherland and the Earl of Ellesmere. Indeed such is the size of the collection that only a small part can ever be on display at one time. The National Galleries of Scotland now comprise this building, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and the Dean Gallery, which are all in Edinburgh. There are also out-stations at Duff House (Aberdeenshire) and Paxton House in the Scottish Borders.
Controversy struck with the expensive acquisitions policy of Director Timothy Clifford, particularly of Canova's The Three Graces in 1995 for £7.6m and Botticelli's Sleeping Christ Child at £10.25m. However, this has kept important works in the UK, which would otherwise have gone abroad.