British Council Scotland 70th Anniversary

This year marks the 70th anniversary of British Council Scotland. Dynamic and ever-evolving, one of the British Council Scotland’s key objectives is to connect Scotland to the world. Central to achieving this is a fervent belief in supporting, sharing and celebrating the arts.

To mark this anniversary, we are spotlighting British Council Scotland’s support for the visual arts. Here we present 70 works from the British Council Collection that map the vitality and record the activity of just some of the artists who were born in, or studied, lived or visited Scotland in the last 70 years.

There is Wilhemina Barns-Graham’s (1912-2004, born in St Andrews, trained at Edinburgh College of Art), exquisite painting in chilly blues and greens of a glacier. There is the celebrated artist and designer Eric Ravilious (1903 -1942) painting of a convoy of warships sailing along the Firth of Forth. Ravilious was appointed as an official war artist and was stationed in Scotland during the Second World War.

And moving across the decades, there is Ross Sinclair’s (born in 1966, trained at Glasgow School of Art) paean to the Scottish landscape (or perhaps a demolition of easy romanticism). In this video work, Sinclair with ‘REAL LIFE’ tattoed across his back, stands singing in the wilderness. Or there is Morag Keil’s (born in 1985, studied at Glasgow School of Art) uptown and urban self-portrait on the street with mobile phone.

Moreover the first moving-image work to enter the Collection in 1994 was a work by Douglas Gordon (born 1966, studied Glasgow of School of Art). Entitled 10 MS-1 and made from found footage, it shows a limp-bodied, war-damaged man repeatedly attempting to stand up. It is a challenging watch.

British Council Scotland was formed in 1946. Powers in post-war Britain were keen to celebrate its hard-fought freedoms and show the world its flowering culture and energetic creativity. Interestingly, the then head of the British Council (founded earlier in 1934) Henry Harvey Wood was a co-founder of the Edinburgh International Festival in 1947.

The Collection itself started modestly in 1938, initially only acquiring works on paper. It was in 1946 that the Collection acquired its first painting, Charleston Barn by the Bloomsbury artist Duncan Grant (1885 – 1978, born in the Scottish Highlands). Today, 70 years on, the Collection, often referred to as a ‘museum without walls’ consists of over 8,500 works. And much like a touring band, works from the Collection are frequently on the road to reach global destinations and exhibitions in a diverse array of international galleries and museums.

And international exchange is vital. One example is Below another Sky, a portfolio of prints recently acquired by the Collection. This portfolio was borne out of a collaboration between Scotland’s four print studies and saw 10 artists invited from the Commonwealth to join 10 artists from Scotland to make new bodies of work. The result is exhilarating.

British Council Scotland is integral to Scotland’s standing as a thriving, vibrant and international centre for contemporary art. This selection of 70 works provides us with this visual evidence.

This introduction was written by Susanna Beaumont, an independent curator based in Scotland, who selected these 70 works. 

Explore the 70 works (on the right) by just some of the artists who were born in, or studied, lived or visited Scotland in the last 70 years. 

From November-December 2016, we spotlight seven of these works: