Owen Jones and The Alhambra

Over the past year, Paula Pages, a postgraduate student from the University of Edinburgh has enjoyed an internship at Edinburgh Central Library which has given her the opportunity to explore Central Library’s Special Collections. She has used her studies to create our new Capital Collections exhibition: Travel to Perfection: Owen Jones and The Alhambra.

Owen Jones was a British architect and designer who travelled to Granada in Spain in 1834 and 1837. His first visit was after he completed his architecture studies and formed part of his own Grand Tour around Italy, Greece, Turkey, Egypt and Spain.

When Jones reached Granada he was captivated, like many travellers before him, by the architecture and decoration of The Alhambra Palace.  He was amazed by the way the Moorish designers played with geometry to create endless decorative patterns within the 14th century fortress. Inspired by the Alhambra, Moorish style became a  major theme of Jones’ career.

Owen Jones and The Alhambra uses selected pages from his essential handbook, the Grammar of Ornament and explains the artist’s inspiration behind his intricate and exquisite designs.

Track cycling at Meadowbank Velodrome

On a beautiful balmy evening late last summer, we were privileged to attend one of the regular track cycling training sessions at Meadowbank to enhance our library archive’s collection of sport images. The images and film clips show cyclists taking to the boards to train and race on the steep wooden slopes of the Velodrome.

Track cyclists, Meadowbank Veldrome

Meadowbank Stadium and Velodrome were built for the 1970 Commonwealth Games and both hosted the Games again in 1986 when they returned to the city. The training venue has been home to a number of Olympians, world and European champions over the years, including notably Olympian Sir Chris Hoy, former world gold medallist Craig MacLean and former world champion Graeme Obree.

See Edinburgh’s current track cyclists in action in our latest Capital Collections exhibition!

In the garden – Walter Crane’s children’s books

Our latest exhibition on Capital Collections, In the Garden: Walter Crane’s children’s books, was created by Elizabeth Stevens an Art History postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh. Elizabeth completed the online exhibition as part of her internship programme between the University and Central Library. The internship programme allows students to gain practical experience outside the typical academic setting and spend time researching an aspect of the Library’s Special Collections.

Elizabeth was drawn to the Library’s children’s illustrated books collection and in particular the work of Walter Crane (1848-1915). Crane was a draughtsman, illustrator, designer and socialist. In his time, he was regarded as one of the best illustrators of children’s books in Britain. Crane’s books include retellings of classics like Aesop’s Fables as well as his own stories, making for a diverse catalogue that sold extremely well to people of all classes.

Crane’s artistic style was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites, the Arts and Crafts Movement and Aestheticism. Alongside these artistic influences, Crane was also an enthusiastic socialist, influenced by his close friend William Morris. The exhibition allows people to see a period of transformation, both within art and within society.

Child in the Garden

The image of the ‘Child in the Garden,’ while not the most innovative in style, illustrates an important aspect of Crane’s work. The child is in a natural setting, surrounded by nature, animals and a book which illustrates the changes in attitudes towards children in Victorian Britain. Judging by a large number of laws passed during the time, childhood was beginning to be something that was protected.

It is even possible to see a practical example of this change happening in Edinburgh around the same time in our Life History of a Slum Child exhibition also on Capital Collections, where pictures show children being taught in the open air.

Schoolchildren in St Saviour's Child Garden



Walter Geikie (1795-1837): An Artist of Character

Following the success of the recent City Art Centre exhibition ‘Walter Geikie (1795-1837): An Artist of Character’, our colleagues in Edinburgh Museums and Galleries have created a new complementary exhibition of Geikie’s art on Capital Collections.

Walter Geikie was a genre artist who lived in Edinburgh during the early 19th century.  A fine draughtsman and skilled printmaker, Geikie’s main focus was the portrayal of the city’s poor and working classes – subjects that he approached with honesty, empathy and wit.Drawing a Silhouette

The Capital Collections exhibition brings together a selection of his etchings and paintings from the City Art Centre’s collection. Images include depictions of itinerant pedlars, fairground crowds, agricultural labourers, and the fisherfolk of Newhaven.

You can also read Walter Geikie’s story on Our Town Stories to get his vivid impression of life in Edinburgh during the 1800s.

Belzoni : The giant archaeologists love to hate

Our latest exhibition on Capital Collections records Giovanni Belzoni’s research whilst on expedition in Egypt and Nubia.

Belzoni’s introduction to the wonders of the ancient world could hardly have been less auspicious. Whilst in Cairo waiting for an audience with Mohammed Ali Pasha, the Italian monk-turned-peddler-turned-hydrologist-turned-circus impresario paid a visit to the Great Pyramid and became so tightly wedged his guides had to forcibly extract him!

Tableau representing the two niches supposed to include the names of the hero deposited in the Tomb

As an explorer Belzoni was motivated by finding hidden treasure to sell as artefacts to collectors. His methods were often destructive and quite unorthodox he was once called “the most notorious tomb robber Egypt has ever known” but his discoveries laid the foundation for the scientific study of Egyptology.

Our exhibition brings together some of the paintings from his adventures ……let’s explore!


The colourful world of Ned Holt

To coincide with the Museum of Edinburgh’s latest exhibition, ‘Street Life in Victorian Edinburgh: The colourful world of Ned Holt’, a new exhibition on Capital Collections brings together all of Edward P. Holt’s character paintings from a bound volume held by Edinburgh Libraries.

Holt began his working life as an apprentice baker but gave that up for a career as a showman and then as an actor. His painting seems to have been a sideline, often it’s claimed, merely a means of paying for a drink in one of Edinburgh’s Old Town taverns.

His paintings depict the people he encountered in daily life, those who lived or made their money on the streets of Edinburgh. Through them we have a vivid and remarkable record of the people who roamed the city’s streets 150 years ago.Edinburgh characters at St Giles

The Holt artworks in the Museum of Edinburgh exhibition are accompanied by poetry by Donald Campbell and we’re delighted to include some of his poems alongside the characters on Capital Collections.

Donald Campbell’s emotive vignettes bring the characters further to life. Here is Donald Campbell’s poem to the artist himself:

Ned Holt

In his studio and on stage
At Connor’s or the Hallow Fair,
The talent he possessed was rare
And would be so in any age.

But in Auld Reekie, as elsewhere
The Arts were sorely in decline.
The hey-day of the philistine
Caused all our people to despair.

And yet Ned Holt, he paid no mind
To fashions that were like to kill
The calling that he need fulfil;
To paint the portraits of his kind
From Canongait to Castlehill.

And – through his eyes – we see them still.

Don’t miss the exhibition of paintings and poetry at the Museum of Edinburgh on show until 29th June 2014.

Field of Light

Our new Capital Collections exhibition documents the largest and one of the most important public artworks displayed in Edinburgh in recent years.

Field of light

‘Field of Light’ by UK artist Bruce Munro consists of 9,500 illuminated spheres on lighted stalks which gradually change colour and cast their undulating glow across the space. Visitors can wander through the square and enjoy the other worldly nature of the light and experience the grand Georgian architecture in a new way.

Although Field of Light has been installed in several prestigious locations before it came to Edinburgh, St Andrew Square is its first completely urban setting.

Visit the installation until 27th April, or browse our fantastic pictures online.