We visited Edinburgh on a cool, grey day that seemed the perfect atmosphere for the city’s granite, made-to-last buildings. The architecture here has the same feeling as in Stirling, a combination of strength and dignity that you can see will stand the test of time and northern hemisphere winters.
Walking along Edinburgh’s Royal Mile is similar to walking on the rue de Rivoli in Paris, with centuries-old buildings, interesting historical notes, and ground level tourist shops, albeit ones selling tartan and kilts instead of Eiffel Towers and berets. A highlight of the day was finding a tartan weaving mill and exhibit in a tourist centre near Edinburgh Castle, where we stood on balconies and watched several different patterns being woven on huge looms. It was fascinating to see the operators loading and changing huge spools of wool in every colour of the rainbow, and then watch as unique patterns emerged in the final products.
Impressionism & Scotland
The best part of the day for me turned out to be inside the National Gallery, where we saw the exhibit Impressionism & Scotland in its final week. In Paris, Musee Marmottan is one of my favourite small museums, and I always try to see some Impressionist works at whatever museum we may be visiting there. The exhibit here in Scotland brings together the works of many French impressionists side by side with Scottish artists I hadn’t seen before. I didn’t know about “the Glasgow boys” or “the Scottish Colourists” and especially loved the way the exhibit displayed a French painting next to a Scottish one to demonstrate the influence of the former upon the latter.
Some Scottish artists of note were James Guthrie, Samuel Peploe, and John Lavery. We learned that Scotland was one of the first countries to recognise and appreciate the work of the French Impressionists, when prosperous Glasgow merchants wanted to demonstrate their worldliness and purchased many important paintings. These civic leaders also supported Scottish artists who were inspired by French impressionists such as Manet, Monet, Degas, Renoir, and others. We were impressed by how many French paintings in the exhibit were on loan from Glasgow galleries.
A Proud, Royal Feel
My overwhelming impression of Edinburgh is that of an antiquarian city, impressive and proud on one hand, a bit cold and haughty on the other. I’m sure Edinburgh has a warm, casual side, perhaps more evident on long summer days or during the Edinburgh Festival, which we think would be fun to attend someday.
To me the tall, fortress-like architecture, combined with the sense I get of Edinburgh’s citizens also having a somewhat proud, regal outlook, left me perceiving the city as a “grande dame,” aging but still handsome in a detached way. We hope to explore it more on a future visit, and experience other aspects of its atmosphere and culture.
In the limited time we have on this trip, we also want to get a taste of the Highlands before we move on to Paris.