The Queen's Gallery was built in the shell of the former Holyrood Free Church and Duchess of Gordon’s School at the entrance to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The buildings were constructed in the 1840s with funds from the Duchess of Gordon, but fell into disuse in the late 19th century.
Benjamin Tindall Architects were appointed project architects for the new Queen’s Gallery in October 1999. Their central visual theme was a celebration of The Queen’s Golden Jubilee, expressed through a series of arches and screens that lead visitors from the Gallery entrance to the exhibition spaces beyond. Their design complements the original 19th-century architecture, elements of which were incorporated into the new spaces. Unsympathetic later internal alterations were removed, and a new exposed steel and concrete floor inserted to reflect the original ‘gallery’ of the Church.
A new stone arched entrance was created at the centre of the Horse Wynd frontage, opposite the new Scottish Parliament building. The use of a stone archway, with a courtyard beyond, is a traditional entrance device in Scottish architecture. The main walling is of Catcastle stone, the dressed work and lettering is of Stainton stone and the base is of Kenmay granite.
‘THE QUEEN’S GALLERY’ lettering above the entrance is the work of John Neilson, a calligrapher and carver. The letters were cut from single pieces of stone. Above sits Scotland’s heraldic lion, designed by Jill Watson. The lion sedant is based on a small red lion that sits at the feet of Mary, Queen of Scots on her tomb in Westminster Abbey. (The Palace of Holyroodhouse was once home to Mary, Queen of Scots.)
The monumental entrance doors of oak have gilded bronze hinges by Jill Watson. Continuing the heraldic theme, the main hinges are decorated with the Scottish lion and unicorn. The beasts are set against the adjacent urban scene of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile and the rural scene of Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags. The upper hinges are made as golden boughs of flowering native trees – chestnut and laburnum, oak, rowan and hawthorn.
The stone archway is decorated with a carved and gilded garland of Scottish flowers, including daisies and thistles, created by Graciela Ainsworth, an Edinburgh-based sculptor, carver and conservator. Over the old entrance to the former church is a stained-glass window by Christian Shaw. The design shows a perspective drawing of the interior of a gallery.
At night, the shape of the archway is reflected by the glass lights by Keiko Mukaide set into the paving. The artist has given the tiles a water flow pattern, mirroring the stream of visitors walking in and out of the Gallery.
Inside, the reception desk by Hamid van Koten is made from curved pieces of Scottish elm with kilned glass and patinated copper. The pendant lights were designed and made in Edinburgh by Ingrid Phillips.
Dividing the reception from the main Gallery area is a patterned glass screen by Jacqueline Poncelet. The screen’s bronze handles by Jill Watson incorporate figures looking at art in a gallery.
The dramatic central stair of native timber leads to the Gallery spaces above. The complex shape was designed by the architects with Charles Taylor Woodwork, who were responsible for the construction. Lights set into the first floor illuminate the curved balustrading.
The Queen’s Gallery was opened by Her Majesty The Queen on 29 November 2002, as part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations. It hosts a programme of changing exhibitions from the Royal Collection.