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Issue 35 - Soaking up the culture

Scotland Magazine Issue 35
November 2007


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Soaking up the culture

In the latest of our series on Scotland's great museums and art galleries, Roddy Martine Explores Perth

During the 1980s, I used to occasionally work out of the Perthshire Advertiser offices in Perth, and often mused on how pleasant it would be to live there. With the green swathes of the North and South Inches, fine Georgian terraces, and the River Tay flowing past in stately grandeur, Perth has it all when it comes to period charm.

Moreover, like so many of Scotland’s smaller towns, there is a rich cultural and arts heritage embodied in its two major exhibition spaces – the Perth Museum and Art Gallery in George Street, and its sister Fergusson Gallery, housed in the Round House, a former Waterworks in Marshall Place.

The Perth Museum’s story began in 1784, when the Reverend James Scott formed the Literary and Antiquarian Society of Perth. As with every enterprise, all you need are a few enlightened, committed and generous sponsors. Perth, being the market town of rural Perthshire, was fortunate to have them in abundance and, consequently, the Society flourished.

Thirty eight years later, the Marshall Monument, raised in memory of Thomas Hay Marshall, Lord Provost of Perth and owner of the Glenalmond estate, was built in George Street to house the Society’s collection, and, in 1867, Francis Buchanan White, the Perth-born entomologist, added to the momentum by founding the Perthshire Society of Natural Science.

In 1881, the Perthshire Natural History Museum was built in Tay Street, in memory of Sir Thomas Moncrieffe, past president of the Society, and in 1902, it came under the control of the Town Council. Similarly, the Marshall Monument was gifted to the Town Council in 1914, and, in 1926, two local businessmen, Robert Brough and Robert Hay Robertson, bequeathed a sufficient sum of money to begin a serious art collection.

The outcome of this was the creation of the Perth Museum and Art Gallery which incorporated the Marshall Monument. In 1932, this imposing building was opened by the Duke and Duchess of York, later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

Collections now rotate to provide a cultural record of how the people of Perth and Kinross have shaped, and been shaped, by their environment at a local, national and international level. The museum’s permanent collections encompass archaeology, social and local history, costume and textiles, numismatics, world cultures, archives photography, with around 120,000 images, and arms and armour, including British and foreign firearms, swords, daggers, staff weapons, shot and powder flasks and armour. Of particular interest in this section are a pair of pistols by McNab of Rannoch, and an 18th century Highland targe.

On the gallery walls are examples of portraiture, landscapes, figure painting, prints and sculpture from the 16th to 20th centuries. These include a pre-Reformation panel painting depicting St Bartholomew, Patron Saint of the Glover’s Incorporation, and examples by most of the leading 19th and 20th century Scottish artists. There is also an unexpected English input with watercolours by Beatrix Potter, and oil paintings by Sir John Everett Millais and Sir Edwin Landseer, all of whom had associations with Perthshire.

John Duncan Fergusson was born in Edinburgh in 1874, and today ranks as one of Scotland’s leading colourists. As a student in Paris during the first decade of the 20th century, he was influenced by Matisse and Picasso, and, some would say, they by him.

During the 1920s he worked in London but, in 1928, moved back to Paris with his partner, the dancer Margaret Morris. They remained in France until 1939, relocating to Glasgow where he died in 1961.

Today, the world’s largest collection of his work in the world can be seen at the Fergusson Gallery in Marshall Place, which is a short walk from its parent Museum and Gallery. This unusual, award winning building was converted from an old Water Works in 1992, and the current 2007- 2008 exhibition features a selection of Fergusson’s seascapes. It runs in tandem with an exhibition of new work by Jean Duncan, winner of the 2007 J.

D. Fergusson Arts Award winner. Based in Wormit, Fife, Jean’s block printed and stitched textiles were inspired by the local folklore of the nearby River Tay.

Perth Museum & Art Gallery
78, George Street, Perth PH1 5LB
Tel: +44 (0)1738 632 488 Fax: +44 (0)1738 443 505
Email on:

Open: Mon to Sat 10:00-17:00. Closed on Sundays,
and between Christmas and New Year

Fergusson Gallery
Marshall Place, Perth, PH2 8NS, Scotland
Tel: +44 (0)1738 441 944
Open: Mon-Sat 10.00-17.00 and Sundays between
May and September from 1.30 - 4.00pm

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