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Among the exhibitions my mum and I wanted to visit during our recent trip to Edinburgh was the Van Gogh To Kandinsky at the Scottish National Gallery. Located at the Princes Street end of the Mound, the National Gallery is made up of two building, which are now connected underground - the National Gallery and the Royal Academy.
We entered by the Royal Academy entrance on Princes Street, which was where the banners advertising the exhibition were hanging. We had decided to see if we could borrow a wheelchair for my mum to use while there, and so we asked the girl at the door about this. She said we would need to ask at the ticket desk, and directed us up a flight of stairs. Given that we had just asked about borrowing a wheelchair, it seemed daft that I then to to ask if there was lift access to the exhibition. She directed us to leave the Royal Academy building and go to the National Gallery. However, at the National Gallery we were told to go to the back door of the Royal Academy, where we could get a wheelchair and use a lift.
When we got to the back door of the Royal Academy, our third attempt at access, there was a very cheerful man waiting with a wheelchair - the lady at the National Gallery had called ahead. With my mum settled, we got the lift upstairs and found that it brought us out in the middle of the exhibition - we were escorted through half of it back to the ticket desk at the main entrance.
This was all a bit of a hassle, and serves to illustrate that the Scottish National Gallery can be a bit confusing. If you have no special access requirements, all you need to know is that the building on Princes Street is the Royal Academy, which hosts the main current exhibition. If you're not going to the exhibition, you can access the permanent collection in the National Gallery, which is the back building. If you do have access requirements, I would advise going to the National Gallery, even if it is the exhibition you are attending - if the lady we spoke to there hadn't called ahead, I'm not certain we could have used the back door of the Royal Academy building.
Once in the exhibition (entry £9 adults, £7 concessions), it was all on one level and well laid out. We recognised the space from having visited another exhibition several years ago; it is made up of five rooms, which conveniently have numbers over the doors so that you go through it in the right order. There is one very large room and four smaller ones, but even the smaller ones are large enough to allow you to look at the paintings from across the room,which often gives a different perspective.
As the Van Gogh To Kandinsky exhibition was temporary, I won't dwell too much on the content. There was an interesting mix of artists, and some paintings which I really liked and some which did nothing for me at all. The theme was symbolism, and I particularly liked the focus on nature - we read all the information about the paintings and learned what each painting of nature or landscape was purported to symbolise, but I took them at face value and particularly enjoyed the paintings of Scandinavian landscapes.
On that note, it was a Scandinavian landscape which had been taken to be the "face" of the exhibition, and adorned all the posters and leaflets, as well as being the painting used on notebooks, mousemats, coasters etc in the exhibition gift shop. Yet despite being faced with this painting everywhere I looked in the gallery, there weren't any postcards available in the shop! I didn't want a large print, and I wasn't interested in a notebook or anything - I just wanted a small copy of a painting I had liked.
Having worked our way round the whole exhibition, we took the lift to the connecting underground area between the two buildings. I say underground, but although it is below the ground floor level of both buildings, there is a door into it from Princes Street Gardens. Beside this door are the gallery's two cafes, and it was there we headed for some refreshment...only to be somewhat disappointed.
The smaller cafe only offers drinks and cakes, while the large one, called The Scottish Cafe and Restaurant, is full on table service. They do have sandwiches on their menu, but they're a bit fancy and more expensive than a lot of people would want (including us), and it also doesn't look like the kind of relaxed cafe that you would be comfortable taking noisy young children into. Yet the more casual cafe doesn't offer anything substantial to eat, not even a cabinet of pre-packed sandwiches. We ended up with tea and coffee, a chocolate brownie and a flapjack, which all came to £8.
After we were finished in the cafe, we considered going to look at the National Gallery's permanent collection. However, we had seen it before, and I had sore ankles from walking slowly round the exhibition, so we gave it a miss. There is a good selection of art in the permanent collection though, with different styles and eras to choose from depending on your taste. And of course, there is the famous Skating Minister which the gallery adopted as its logo a few years back.
We had a look around the gallery's main gift shop, and again I didn't find that postcard. The gift shop has a good range of merchandise based on art in the gallery, as well as quite a lot of art books.
After we left the gallery, through the back door of the Royal Academy where we had entered, we stopped for a look at the city model which is on the small plaza overlooking the gardens. This marks Edinburgh's status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is worth a look when you are visiting the gallery.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Van Gogh To Kandinsky exhibition, where I saw work by a lot of artists I had not heard of previously. However, although the exhibition was very good, it wasn't ideal that we didn't know where to go when we arrived, and the gallery really needs a bit more choice in its cafes. The Scottish National Gallery does hold a very interesting and important collection of art however, and despite the negative points on the practical side, it is well worth a visit.