James Grant and the artist’s imagination

From last September, one of our postgraduate interns from the University of Edinburgh, Joseph Massey, has been working with a large and unwieldy item from Central Library’s Special Collections. This is the sketchbook of the 19th century Scotsman James Grant, filled to the brim with paintings of historic Scottish buildings and some unexpected surprises. Having gone through each of the 383 artworks inside, recording their content and condition, Joseph has now arranged two separate exhibitions with Grant’s beautiful images at their heart. ‘Edinburgh’s Church on the Run! The journey of Trinity College Church, 1460 to present day’ is on display from 4 – 27 April in the Central Library’s Music Library, and explores the history of a forgotten architectural gem. ‘James Grant: the artist’s imagination’ is our new Capital Collections exhibition, focusing on Grant’s artistic development and creativity.

Few people could claim to have had as prolific and wide-ranging a career as the Edinburgh-born artist, novelist, historian and architect James Grant (1822-1887). Grant’s output was immense, but it all had a common purpose – to celebrate Scotland’s historic architectural achievements and to drive the country forward to create new masterpieces.

However, Grant’s early experiences in Scotland were not positive. Grant was only a child when his mother Mary Anne Watson died in 1833 and his father, Captain John Grant of the Gordon Highlanders, immediately took James and his two brothers to live with him in his Canadian barracks. Mary Anne had been a capable artist herself, and Grant kept two of his mother’s paintings for the rest of his life, putting them inside his own sketchbook. One of her paintings is of Craigmillar Castle, showing a mother and her child walking in the foreground. Perhaps Mary Anne took her son James to see the castle. Grant later produced a number of beautiful paintings of Craigmillar Castle, perhaps with distant memories of his mother in mind.

Craigmillar Castle by Mary Anne Watson

It was while living in Canada that Grant’s own artistic talent began to emerge. And, fittingly, he started with a painting of the fort’s architecture. Fort Townsend, based on the east coast island of Newfoundland, was the headquarters of the British Newfoundland garrison and the Grant family lived there at Barrack Square. In 1836, when Grant was thirteen or fourteen years old, he stood on the balcony of the east building and painted a picture of the barracks opposite. As an adult Grant painted more pictures of the place that had been his home for six years.

Fort Townsend, St John’s, Newfoundland

Grant’s family returned to Britain in 1839 and he soon joined an architect’s office in Edinburgh. He spent his twenties travelling around Scotland to see as many of its historic castles, palaces, houses and churches as possible – and it is these beautiful pictures that fill most of his sketchbook. Grant’s artistic imagination extended to drawing historic ruins as they would have looked in their heyday, and the most impressive of these is a series of paintings made in 1848 of Craigmillar Castle, where he has imagined how the castle would look with all of its roofs restored. Craigmillar had a number of dramatic connections to members of the Stuart royal family, including Mary Queen of Scots, which was probably why Grant found it so interesting.

Craigmillar Castle – ‘restored’

Grant also wanted to construct buildings of his own design, and the sketchbook contains his designs for two churches, a cathedral and a cemetery gateway – though unfortunately none of them were constructed. They all show his love of medieval gothic architecture, with an abundance of elaborate carved stonework, beautiful window tracery and pinnacles. Grant was also inspired by the work of his contemporaries in both Scotland and continental Europe, where the gothic style was experiencing a revival. Grant’s 1846 design for the west front of a cathedral is one of the largest and most detailed works in his sketchbook. Scotland had no medieval cathedrals as elaborate as this – Grant wanted to bring something new and exciting to his native country.

Cathedral design

It was this love of gothic architecture which drove Grant to make a number of images of Trinity College Church, built in the 1460s and originally located below Calton Hill. In the 1840s the North British Railway company purchased the site of the church so that they could demolish it and make room for Waverley Station. Grant immediately set to work, creating numerous images of the exterior and sculptural details inside, which included monkeys on the pillar capitals! Many other prominent Scotsmen, such as David Bryce, also painting the church and making suggestions for where it could be rebuilt. Some of the earliest photographs taken in Scotland show Trinity College Church before its demolition. Unfortunately the church was not rebuilt in its entirety – after leaving the stones sitting on Calton Hill for 20 years, there was only enough material left to rebuilt part of it, which can still be seen down Chalmers Close, off the Royal Mile.

Trinity College Church

Today Grant is best known for his three-volume series Old and New Edinburgh (1880-83), which traces the history of Edinburgh through its buildings. It is a fitting legacy for a man who devoted his life to Scotland’s architecture.

Joseph’s exhibitions expertly shine a light on the history of Trinity College Church and the work of James Grant:

Church on the run! The journey of Trinity College Church, 1460 to present day
4 – 27 April, Mezzanine, Central Library

James Grant: the artist’s imagination is available to view on Capital Collections.

 

Edinburgh’s Modern Architecture

Yesterday we blogged about Edinburgh’s historic architecture – the world-renowned architecture of its Medieval Old Town and Georgian New Town. But what of the city’s buildings and developments over the past 70 years – its so-called Post-war Architecture?

Our next Capital Collections exhibition examines Modern Architecture in Edinburgh. During the latter part of the 20th century, construction took place across Scotland on new homes, schools, tower blocks, roads, churches and in some cases, even whole new towns. There was a commitment to improve public health and tackle poor housing. After the austerity of the 1940s and 50s, new technologies and materials combined in a period of reconstruction.

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The pictures within the exhibition highlight buildings in Edinburgh constructed since 1945 that have been recognised as architecturally significant and in many instances, are statutory listed as having special architectural or historic interest. Modern architecture can be a contentious topic, loved and loathed by both critics and the public. However, the buildings here show structures representative of their time and architectural styles; buildings that perhaps haven’t been around long enough yet for their value to be appreciated by all…?

Edinburgh’s Historic Architecture

To mark the 2016 Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design, we’ve dug into the Library’s archive and pulled out some fantastic examples of Edinburgh’s historic architecture dating from the early twentieth century all the way back to the sixteenth century.

register-house-edinburgh

Register House by Robert Adam

The exhibition on Capital Collections highlights many significant buildings across Edinburgh’s World Heritage site by world-renowned architects. Amongst those represented are Robert Adam and his design for Edinburgh University’s Old College and Register House, William Henry Playfair’s Greek Doric design for the Royal Scottish Academy, and Sir Robert Rowand Anderson’s McEwan Hall and Catholic Apostolic Church in Broughton Street.

catholic-apostolic-church-broughton-street

Catholic Apostolic Church by Sir Robert Rowand Anderson

Browse online and see Edinburgh anew!

Myplace: Edinburgh a Competition for the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design

Myplace: Edinburgh is a competition to celebrate the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design 2016.

Between 1 June – 10 July 2016 add a photograph of your favourite Edinburgh place (eg a building, location, open space…) to Edinburgh Collected  and tell us what makes it special to you.

poppies

1st , 2nd and 3rd prize winners will be chosen by a panel of judges.  Prizes are kindly donated by the Festival of Architecture 2016 and will be awarded to  1st prize (£200),  2nd prize (£100)  and  3rd prize (£50).

Inch houseCompetition entries will be added to Edinburgh Collected a community archive of Edinburgh memories and featured on the home page.

Terms and Conditions

The photographs you add are your own work
2 Agree to Edinburgh Collected Terms and Conditions
3 Place or building must be within the City of Edinburgh Council boundary
4 Add the tag ‘competition16’  to your memory to enter the competition

pb beach

Visit the Edinburgh Pavilion  at the Pop-Up Cities Expo at the Mound 20th June to the 17th July to see the entries!  Follow us at #popupedin

 

Redesigning South Queensferry Library

Staff at the University of Dundee recently put their architecture students to the test by asking them to to respond to one of the needs identified in this report on the future of Queensferry: namely improvements to the context and fabric of the existing library building.

Queensferry Library

The students got to work designing a complex building in a challenging urban site. From a pool of 64 entries five of the best have been selected for display at the library at an open event on Wednesday 23rd March  from 6.30 – 8.00pm.

It’s hoped that these (theoretical) schemes demonstrate the ability of modern architectural design to make a positive contribution to and existing community through the creation of an environment that people will find stimulating and enduring.

Come along to hear more about each winning entry and what inspired these designs. All ages are welcome, and refreshments will be provided.

The people who helped shape Edinburgh Libraries: Thomas Ross

Thomas Ross was born in Perthshire in 1839, the son of a tenant farmer. He  moved to Glasgow in 1885 to become an apprentice architect. In 1862, Thomas Ross was employed as an assistant to architect David MacGibbon, and in 1872 they went into partnership. As well as working on their architectural commissions, MacGibbon and Ross undertook an ambitious project travelling across Scotland, mainly by train or bike, sketching and gathering information about the country’s architectural heritage.

This resulted in the five volume work “Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland” (1887- 92) and the three volumes of “The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Scotland” (1896-97).  Both series remain key texts for Scottish architecture (and can be found in our Art Library collections).

Torphichen Church

Ross’s influence increased when he became a founder member of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCHAMS) in 1908. He received an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from Edinburgh University in 1910.

Alfred MacGibbon (David’s son), fell ill in 1914 and dissolved the partnership. Ross continued to undertake small jobs that interested him from his home in Saxe-Coburg Place. His main occupation continued to be Commission business and it was while studying Rossend Castle, Inverkeithing that he fell foul of wartime restrictions when he was arrested and later fined 5 shillings for “sketching in a prohibited area”.

Ross continued to work as an architect until 1916 making surveys and sketches of old buildings. In 1918, Ross became Professor of Antiquities at the Royal Edinburgh Academy. He died in 1930 aged 91.

After his death, his son James MacLaren Ross destroyed most of the practice papers but those relating to the books and to Commission business were given to the National Library.  Drawings and paintings relating to Edinburgh, Scotland and England were given to Edinburgh Central Library. St Mary's Church, Haddington

Our latest Capital Collections exhibition brings together some of these unique watercolour paintings Ross completed on his various travels around Scotland and England and focus on landmark domestic and ecclesiastical buildings, many of which appear in his classic architectural texts.

 

Read previous posts in this series about the principal donors who helped shape Edinburgh Libraries here:

Henry Dyer: engineer, educationist and Japanophile

Robert Butchart: City Librarian and Old Edinburgh enthusiast

Charles Boog Watson: antiquarian and ARP warden

William McEwan: brewer and philanthropist

David Mather Masson: scholar and biographer

The architecture of Italy

Fresco decorations and stuccoes of churches & palaces in Italy’, the newest addition to our Capital Collections site shows the work of engraver Lewis Grüner and gives a glimpse inside (and out!) of some of the finest buildings in renaissance Italy.

If you are interested in architecture, hoping for a few interior design ideas or are simply intrigued to see what the inside of Pope Clemens VII bathroom looks like, then this is an exhibition you won’t want to miss.