If your sum total of knowledge about Scotland consists only of Mike Meyers impersonating Sean Connery in that SNL skit where he pronounces anything that’s not Scottish as “crap,” and, ummm, Scotch, then you might be surprised, as I was, to learn that the Scots have three national art galleries. For a country with a scant 5 million people, Scotland has an amazing and vibrant arts culture, as evidenced by Botticelli to Braque: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland, the newest traveling exhibition at the Kimbell Art Museum.
The Renzo Piano Pavilion has been transformed with “Edinbugh Red” walls for the exhibit, which includes some beautiful Renaissance pieces like Sandro Botticelli’s 1490 “Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child,” featuring a gloriously-painted blonde Mary and a chunky baby Jesus. Works by Rembrandt and Vermeer hang comfortably with those of more modern painters like Thomas Gainsborugh and John Singer Sargent (his gloriously lush “Lady Agnew of Lochnaw” is the face of the bus boards and billboards advertising the exhibit). Frederic Edwin Church’s post-Civil War “Niagra Falls on the American Side” languished in the basement of the National Gallery for close to a century, according to Kimbell deputy director George T. M. Shackelford, because the Scots weren’t quite sure what to make of the ruggedly American painting.
The exhibition also showcases art by and for Scots, including quite a bit of tartan plaid. The tartan, a symbol of Scottish nationalism, culture, and clans, was outlawed by the British after a series of disastrous rebellions in the early and mid-18th century in which the Scots attempted to overthrow the Hanoverian rule in England and restore the Stuart dynasty. Paintings showcasing heirs of the house of Stuart include William Dobson’s “Charles II” (grandson of James I of England, who was also James VI of Scotland, the first king who joined the two nations). Sir Edwin Landseer’s “Rent-day in the Wilderness” depicts the collection of tenants’ rent money by Scottish lords in defiance of British law. The rents funded the Scottish rebel armies in the 1700s.
In keeping with the celebratory Scottish theme, the museum is hosting Kimbell Fest: Scotland on July 18, which features free admission to the exhibit, the ever-popular group of food trucks, and music from The Wild Feathers, Calhoun and Whiskey Folk Ramblers. Also in attendance: Her Majesty, Queen Margaret of Scotland and the Isles, who usually presides over Scarborough Renaissance Festival. If you’re keeping track of the complex British-Scottish marital arrangements, Queen Margaret, sister to British monarch Henry VIII, married King James IV of Scotland several generations before Britain and Scotland were tenuously united under James VI.
In a royal communique obtained exclusively for the Fort Worth Weekly, her Majesty said: “The Kimbell Art Museum will never be the same. Museum management may send bills to foot repairs to Henry VIII, care of Hampton Court Palace.”
Botticelli to Braque: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland runs through September 20.