City Art Centre show will spell out history of the Capital

Hundreds of objects from Edinburgh’s museum and gallery collections will be drawn together and placed on display for the very first time.

Pantomime set from the kings theatre
Pantomime set from the King's theatre

Hundreds of objects from Edinburgh’s museum and gallery collections will be drawn together and placed on display for the very first time.

Spanning 60,000 years and over 300 items, Edinburgh Alphabet: An A-Z of the City’s Collections will combine artworks and artefacts across four floors of the City Art Centre this summer (Friday 19 May – 8 October).

In what will be a first for the city, this major exhibition will spell out the story of Edinburgh and its people through an ‘alphabet’ of themes showcasing objects and artworks the City has unearthed, retrieved, collected and received as gifts.

Rare and unusual museum items on display for the first time include architect Thomas Hamilton's winning design for the Burns Monument in 1831 and intricate set designs for King’s Theatre pantomimes, which are being conserved (pictured) ahead of their unveiling in Edinburgh Alphabet.

They will be displayed alongside stone-age discoveries from archaeological excavations, unique examples of historic glass and ceramics from the Council's applied art collections, toys from the Museum of Childhood and favourites from the City Art Centre collection, including John Duncan's Tristan and Isolde, Cadell's Black Hat and a newly acquired painting Moon by Alison Watt.

The display coincides with the Scottish Government’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology and this summer's Edinburgh Art Festival.

Councillor Richard Lewis, Culture Convener, said: “This is Edinburgh up-close as you've never seen it before. Telling the story of the city through the objects in our care, Edinburgh Alphabet will provide a colourful and eclectic journey through the ages. 

"Visitors to Edinburgh can't fail to miss the Georgian New Town or our monuments to Walter Scott and Robert Burns - but it is the original models and plans for these familiar structures which really tell the story of how they came to be. They will be displayed alongside hundreds of fascinating objects and fine artworks at the City Art Centre for the first time."

David Patterson, exhibition curator, added: “This is a wonderful opportunity to showcase Edinburgh's history and collections in one, major display. Edinburgh Alphabet is a celebration of many decades of collecting, conserving and displaying artworks and artefacts with a connection to Edinburgh.

"We have chosen themes for each letter of the alphabet around which each exhibit can be grouped, allowing for a display of incredible variety and colour. The collection tells us so much about life in Edinburgh from the cradle to the grave and this exhibition is a real labour of love by curators past and present. We hope the display will be loved by visitors in return." 

Highlights will include:

  • Aspects of Edinburgh from the City Art Centre’s collection by major Scottish artists alongside works recently restored and on show for the first time. 
  • Notable archaeological discoveries including Mesolithic (stone age) tools unearthed in Cramond – providing the first evidence of settlement in Edinburgh from what is thought to be Scotland's oldest occupied site.
  • Favourites from the Council’s Museum of Childhood, Museum of Edinburgh, Writers’ Museum, Lauriston Castle and Queensferry Museum – including a knife discovered in the Forth which belonged to a diver working on the Forth Bridge.
  • Miniature models of some of the largest and most famous structures in Edinburgh - the Scott Monument, Burns Monument and Mercat Cross. A dolls' house replica of Stockbridge House and elaborate stage sets of the city’s King’s Theatre.
  • Recent items created by Edinburgh people – from protest placards from Edinburgh's recent Women’s Marches to a display of the winning images from the gallery's Capture Edinburgh photography competition. 

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