Aberdeen Art Gallery – What You Can’t Miss, as Told by Locals

We’ve waited for years, and now it’s finally here.

After YEARS of waiting, Aberdeen Art Gallery has finally reopened after restoration! Studying history of art, I had to visit during the opening weekend. I’m still buzzing with excitement, so I don’t think I could create a list of highlights and tell you what you absolutely can’t miss. Therefore, I asked people within the museum. Amazingly, people will gladly tell a stranger about their favourite piece of art. Here’s what I discovered.

Fern: Restraining Coat II (Female) by Julie Roberts

Location: Gallery 4, Human Presence

Credit: Freya Juul Jensen (Author)

I met Fern on the first floor of the museum, overlooking the Sculpture Court. Being an employee, I thought she would be the perfect person to ask first. She hesitated a bit before saying “the one with the restraining coat downstairs.” She told me about how she loved the green background, how it stands out in the room. The rather calming colour stands in contrast to the chaotic application of paint within the restraining coat, symbolising the immobilisation of the female body.

Iain: Various bottles

Location: Gallery 6, Feasting

Credit: Freya Juul Jensen (Author)

Funnily enough, I spotted Iain nearby Restraining Coat II (Female). When asked about his favourite piece in the museum, he led me back to a gallery he had previously been in. Here, he showed me three small bottles. I was quite surprised, but then he told me why. Iain loves to go for walks on the beach to clear his head. In the sand, he’s found shards from bottles similar to the ones on display in the gallery. He suspects that following the bombings of Aberdeen during World War II, the rubble was dumped near the Bridge of Don. As time has passed, shards have found their way to the beach. Iain was amazed that something can survive for so long. This excitement made me understand how important the inclusion of local history is to the people of Aberdeen. The art gallery has done an incredible job.

Katie: Mariana by Dante Gabriel Rosetti

Location: Gallery 18, People and Portraits

Credit: Freya Juul Jensen (Author)

Since art history is such a small part of the University of Aberdeen, I never expect to meet anyone else who studies it. Yet, I met Katie, a third year English and History of Art student, while wandering around in gallery 18. When I talked with her, she pointed towards a painting by Rosetti behind me, telling me how she adores Pre-Raphaelite art. It’s always incredible to finally see art you’re familiar with in person. Rosetti is just one example of this. Aberdeen Art Gallery has a good balance of well-known artists and ones you might not have heard about.

Clare: Pope I – Study after Pope Innocent X by Velazquez by Francis Bacon

Location: Gallery 18, People and Portraits

Credit: Freya Juul Jensen (Author)

While I didn’t speak to Clare for long, she’s an incredibly interesting person. She mentioned multiple artworks in the gallery, but one of her stories stood out to me. She told me that in 1974, she went on a holiday with her boyfriend at the time. They went to a place that held a private party, but because they had driven for as long as they had, they were allowed to sit in the bar. Here, they shared a bottle of wine. In walked Francis Bacon! Clare excitedly told me he ordered a bottle of champagne. She was scared to ask, so her boyfriend asked if he actually was Bacon. They ended up drinking champagne together and talking for quite a while. “I should have asked him for a sketch,” Clare told me with a laugh. Then, she excused herself to go looking for her husband who had wandered off.

Freya: Art of Empowerment

Location: Gallery 14

Credit: Freya Juul Jensen (Author)

While I can’t create a list on my own, I have to include something I adore. Studying art history, it’s quite disheartening, although not surprising, to learn how women have been kept out of the art world through history. I, therefore, love that Aberdeen Art Gallery has dedicated an entire gallery to the role of women in art in the late 19th and early 20th century. This gallery tells stories of the feminist movement and women’s fight for their rights. It even includes letters written by women from the time, detailing how they planned meetings and were activists.

So, what’s left to say about Aberdeen Art Gallery? I only have praise. It’s a perfect mix of different kinds of art, old and new. There are well-known names, local artists, objects you might not consider art but actually are, beautiful architecture, incredible galleries… I could go on and on, but I think you’d be better off to see for yourself. Entry’s free, and it’s definitely worth a visit!


Header image by Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums on Facebook