Talbot Rice Gallery – Edinburgh, Scotland - Atlas Obscura

Talbot Rice Gallery

Once designed as a natural history museum, this building is now home to a massive art gallery. 


Established in 1975, this gallery was named after one of the University of Edinburgh’s most noted Professors of Fine Arts. David Talbot Rice was born in England, but taught in the Scottish capital until his death in 1972.

The gallery occupies several rooms at the University of Edinburgh’s Old College, all housed in a grand neoclassical hall (originally constructed to be the home of the university’s Museum of Natural History). The Old College itself was designed by Robert Adam and William Playfair, with construction beginning during the early 19th century. 

However, the building process was slow and intermittent, which resulted in the structure remaining under construction until 1827 under the sole supervision of Playfair. 

The neoclassical hall of the Talbot Rice Gallery is considered a sibling of sorts to the University’s Playfair Library (also designed by William Playfair). While the Library is only open to students and for special events, Talbot Rice Gallery is open to all and free to visit. Inside the gallery, both modern art and classical style share the same space. The gallery also hosts artist residencies and outreach programs.

Know Before You Go

The gallery is regularly open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m. It opens on Sundays and Mondays seasonally and times can be found on their website. Entrance is free.

The grassy quad adjacent to the eastern entrance to the gallery has several unique features. In the northeastern corner once housed the nefarious Dr. Knox's operating theatre. He was the physician responsible for funding the notorious killing spree by the infamous serial murders Burke and Hare.

Along the western wall are a set of steps and a balcony that leads up to one of the museum's entrances. It is at the top of this staircase that the actor James Mason, addressing a large enthusiastic crowd, gave a rallying speech at the end of the 1959 classic Jules Verne film, Journey to the Center of the Earth.

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November 15, 2019

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