National Museum of Scotland launched ten new galleries of art, design, fashion, science and technology

following a £14.1 million redevelopment in their 150th year

Anna Sansom July 2016

Marking its 150th anniversary with aplomb, the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh has inaugurated 10 new galleries. Spanning decorative arts and design, fashion, science and technology, their unveiling follows a £14 million redevelopment. More than 3,000 objects have gone on display, including over 400 new acquisitions. A star exhibit is Dolly the Sheep, the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell in 1996. Dolly was put down in 2003 after developing a terminal lung tumour but she has been preserved and now stands on a plinth.

Of particular interest is the fashion gallery, the first in the history of the museum, and the three galleries dedicated to decorative arts and design. The fashion pieces include an extraordinary 'court mantua' dress (1750-1770) in cream silk and brocaded in gold, its tiny waist contrasting with the wide skirt which would have been worn with a hoop underneath. The equivalent cost today of the material would be around £5,000, according to Georgina Ripley, curator of modern and contemporary fashion and textile. The dress is believed to have belonged to the Countess of Haddington in the Scottish Lowlands.

The fashion collection extends from historical exhibits to pieces by Jacques Fath, Paco Rabanne, Vivienne Westwood, Maison Martin Margiela and upcoming menswear designer Craig Green. Among the highlights are the Dark Lung Dress, a sheer black, elongated halter-neck dress with a winged train, from Helen Storey's Primitive Streak Collection in 1997 and a dress-coat in swirling aquamarine colours by Jean Moir that was inspired by the Great Barrier Reef. It was part of the designer's Australian Bicentenary Collection in 1988, celebrating the 200th anniversary of the first fleet of British convict ships arriving in Sydney.

Shoes feature strongly, from a pair dating from the 17th century up to contemporary creations. Tick off architecturally zigzagging, copper-coloured Nova Shoes by Zaha Hadid for United Nude, Julian Hake's Mojito shoe which was inspired by the impression of a footprint in the sand, and embossed silver, gravity-defying Lady Bloom heel-less shoes by Noritaka Tatehana.

Also spectacular are the hats, some of which have been created with the latest innovative technologies. Standouts are Maiko Takeda's Cap (2013) – an ethereal piece, its form reminiscent of a dandelion, made from plastic film and acrylic discs – and Emma Yeo's Dragonfly (2011/2012) in gold-plated latticework. Highly sculptural, the latter was hand-drawn in CAD and acid-etched from brass sheets.

“The hats and shoes collection needed to be expanded and we wanted to acquire cutting-edge, forward-thinking pieces that pushed the boundaries by using new technologies and materials,” explains Ripley.

The extensive collection of decorative arts, spread over three floors, is eclectic. Unmissable is the exquisite, hand-painted Grand piano, titled Willowwood (1909/1910); its case was designed by Sir Robert Lorimer and it was painted by Phoebe Anna Traquair. Traquair's elaborate paintwork, themed around music and love, was inspired by three sources: Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Willowwood sonnets, Song of Solomon in the Old Testament and the Greek pipe-playing god Pan.

“Everybody thought that Phoebe Anna Traquair's piano had been lost but miraculously it came up for auction in the US and we were able to acquire it, which is just fantastic,” says Dr Sally-Anne Huxtable, principal curator of modern and contemporary design.

There are also embroidered hangings designed by May Morris, the daughter of William Morris; the brightly-coloured Alpha Centauri vase by Marco Zanini of Memphis; geometric plates by Eduardo Paolozzi for Wedgwood; and chairs by Bertjan Pot and Marcel Wanders, Tom Dixon and Gavin Munro.

Certainly, the National Museum of Scotland has augmented its international appeal, effectively bringing together several updated collections under one vast roof.

All images © Stewart Attwood

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Anna Sansom

Anna Sansom is a British-born, Paris-based journalist who writes about art, design, and architecture for DAMN°, Frame, Mark, The Art Newspaper, Whitewall, Art Now and Noblesse (China).

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