16/04/2018
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Illustrating Scottish Poems - new exhibition at National Library of Scotland

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A copy of Robert Burns’ Tam O’Shanter, Allan Ramsay’s Gentle Shepherd and early editions of James Macpherson’s Ossian cycle are among the treasures on display in Illustrating Scottish Poems, an exhibition at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh.

The exhibition encompasses items from the 1780s onwards when the collapse of the London copyright monopoly made way for the independent tradition of Scottish literary illustration.

An exciting time

Professor Sandro Jung, Senior Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and Rare Books Curator Dr Anette Hagan co-curated Illustrating Scottish Poems. Anette Hagan said: “It was an exciting time for Scottish publishers. It allowed them to offer new representations of moments or scenes from the poems, and this industry thrived for the next 40 years.  

“The books were produced in small format editions to allow people to carry them and read at every opportunity, and readers were able to enjoy a fresh interpretation of their literature and landscapes through the works of Scottish artists such as David Allan, Alexander Carse and Walter Weir.

“The illustrations proved to be popular, and were later produced with the use of larger copper plates to provide both monochrome and colour prints that could be framed.”

Works on display at the Library include

  • Allan Ramsay’s Gentle Shepherd
  • Robert Burns’ Tam O’Shanter
  • Early editions of James Macpherson’s Ossian cycle
  • James Thomson’s The Seasons

Illustrating Scottish Poems is on display at the National Library of Scotland on George IV Bridge, Edinburgh until 17 June 2018.

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