I was cursing the fact I had not packed my sunglasses on Saturday morning as we were treated to yet another sunny autumn morning. Café society was out on all the pavements in town, weekend school sports and boot camps in the Meadows and I was squinting in the sunlight to see where I was going.
I had hoped we would manage to squeeze in some jazz at the Scottish Arts Club at lunchtime but our shopping trip took longer than expected so I spent the afternoon reading and watching birds. A flock of jackdaws were feeding on the lawn, the cherry tree and the building opposite, joined by a pair of magpies. They did not stay still in one place long enough for photographs. Today, James was attending a course and as I did not sleep well last night, limited myself to one outing to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, a wonderful building on Queen Street.
I had gone to see an exhibition that finishes on 16th January: ‘Facing the World: portraits from Rembrandt to Ai Wei-Wei’. There are five sections in the exhibition and the earliest are of course, oil paintings. I was reminded of a conversation last year with a friend around the topic of being able to appreciate a work of art without knowing anything about the artist. This is true but knowing something can shed more light on why this particular work was produced at this particular time. Or perhaps it is just that I am interested in people, have spent my career working with them and have a particular interest in creativity. On my current reading list is a recently published book entitled ‘Wired to Create’.
This work stuck out for me amongst the oil paintings. It is by Georg Philipp Schmitt in 1823-4 when he was 15 or 16 years old and is in pencil which was then a recently invented tool. I had forgotten that they really have not been around for long.
Portraits can provide an insight via facial expression, clothing and props and also the setting. This is Wilhelm Schnarrenbarger in his studio.
Others depicted themselves with friends or family members, role played or focussed on specific parts of the body such as this untitled circle of hands by Bruce Nauman.
There are 20th century photographs, video and outside the exhibition, the opportunity to contribute your own selfie to a display or for children to draw themselves. I have never painted or drawn a self-portrait and my sister complained recently that I was always behind the lens and not in front of it. Here is a photographic self-portrait from 1984.