The best exhibitions to see in Scotland in 2016

By Kate McNab | 30 December 2015 | Updated: 31 March 2016

If your New Year's resolution is to get out and see some incredible art in 2016 then you're in luck. Our guide to the best exhibitions to see in Scotland has some truly exciting shows, from the impressionists to the Celts


painting of two figures walking on a beach at sunset
Charles François Daubigny (1817-1878) Sunset near Villerville, c.1876 © The Mesdag Collection, The Hague
The Scottish National Gallery presents (June 25 – October 2), which brings to light work by a relatively little-know impressionist painter. The show examines the role of Charles François Daubigny, who has never been the subject of a major international exhibition, in supporting and developing the impressionist movement.

There's still time if you haven’t had a chance to see the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art’s . This major exhibition of works by lesser-known female artists working in Scotland during the modern art period continues into the summer (until June 26).

painting showing man from behind looking into mirror, the reflection shows his back
René Magritte, Not to be Reproduced (1937)© Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam © Beeldrecht Amsterdam 2007. Photographer: Studio Tromp, Rotterdam © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2015
In the summer, the gallery tackles the world of surrealist art in (June 4 – September 11) which explores the full breadth of the surrealist movement through four expansive collections.

A visit to the gallery wouldn’t be complete without taking in (April 15 2016 – April 16 2017), a year-long display of the iconic Op artist’s monochrome paintings.

Over at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Scottish photographic collective Document Scotland feature in (until April 24), a collection of photographs of and about the nation and its people in the wake of the Scottish referendum.

photographic portrait of woman wearing beige polo neck jumper
Peter Zelewski, Nyaueth (February 2015). From the series Beautiful Strangers© Peter Zelewski
There’s also a chance to catch some outstanding work by photographers from across the globe working in the medium of portrait photography in The (June 18 – October 2), which showcases the very best work by contemporary photographers, with subjects ranging from the artists’ friends and family to the president of the USA.

Shortly after, the gallery brings together an impressive collection of self-portraits from the likes of Rembrandt, Edvard Munch and Marina Abramovich to name but a few. (July 16 – October 16) explores the diversity of the self-portrait, discovering how artists choose to represent themselves.

The National Museum of Scotland is delving into a key missing chapter in evolutionary history with (February 19 – August 14), uncovering a groundbreaking discovery which finally begins to answer how life transitioned from water to land.

A photograph of a silver bowl
The Gundestrup Cauldron© Courtesy The National Museum of Denmark
Further mysteries are uncovered later on in the year for the museum’s unmissable major exhibition (March 10 – October 25), an in-depth look at the culture of the Celts charting the history of the different groups that have been known by the name over the last 300 years through remarkable artefacts including jewellery, religious objects and decorative arts.

Fruitmarket Gallery have a major exhibition of work by Scottish artist (March 11 – May 30), whose delicate sculptures embrace the freedom of the drawn line. The exhibition contains both new and existing work, which beautifully translates sketches and line drawings into almost impossibly precarious forms.

The City Art Centre has a collection of work from painter Stephen Collingbourne. Formerly a lecturer of sculpture Edinburgh College of Art, Collingbourne has taken advice from a tutor during the 60s to enhance his practice by embracing the colour he hated the most. (May 7 – July 3) is a lively selection of work made with this idea in mind.

Alongside, a touring exhibition from the Southbank Centre’s Hayward Gallery (also May 7 – July 3) brings to light sculptures made during a surge in the medium’s popularity during the 1970s and 80s.

British artists such as Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor and Cornelia Parker gained international acclaim for their sculptural works; this exhibition brings some of these inspirational examples to Edinburgh.

Painting of young man with cane and top hat sat underneath a tree
Isaac Oliver, A Young man Seated under a Tree (circa 1590-95)© Royal Collection Trust / Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015
The Palace of Holyroodhouse is looking back on four centuries of art inspired by the garden in (August 5 2016 – February 19 2017). The exhibition charts the significance of the garden in fine and decorative art – from da Vinci’s early botanical illustrations, to ornate botanic-inspired porcelain pieces.

British Art Show 8 (February 13 – May 8) goes on display at venues across the city. The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and the Talbot Rice Gallery all play host to the touring exhibition on its Scottish leg. Showcasing some of the most exciting contemporary art being made in the UK, the exhibition highlights work from 42 artists working across a broad spectrum of artistic media.

The Edinburgh Art Festival (July 28 - August 28) returns for another year to unite the city's museums, galleries and artist-led spaces with an ambitious programme celebrating contemporary visual art and work from important 20th century artists and movements.


Taking place at various venues across Glasgow is Glasgow International (April 8 - 25), a city-wide celebration of local and international contemporary art. The festival aims to develop and support contemporary artists, and help the public engage with the arts through exhibitions, events and talks.

Elsewhere in Scotland

Diptych showing photograph of easel by tree with pen attached to branch on left, and resulting abstract line drawing on right
Tim Knowles, Larch on easel, Buttermere Shore #1 © The Artist
Over in Dundee, The McManus has a couple of terrific drawing exhibitions which explore the importance, variety and beauty of drawing through Dundee’s art collection.

(until August 28)
embraces the breadth of drawing, bringing together pieces which celebrating the medium’s almost unlimited variety, and (until April 17) celebrates the more playful, experimental side of the medium.

At Dundee Contemporary Arts, (February 27 – May 1) explores Scottish architecture and art as part of Scotland’s Festival of Architecture 2016.

Also taking place in the festival, (March 5 – June 5) is a major exhibition from Fife Contemporary Art & Craft examining the human need to make shelter. An immersive photographic installation takes you through Lloyd Khan’s green buildings, and discusses similar constructions in Scotland.

In Stromness, don’t let the size of the Pier Arts Centre’s collection fool you – though small in size the collection has huge importance, containing works from important 20th century artists such as Sir Terry Frost, Eduardo Paolozzi and Alan Davie. These fantastic paintings and sculptures get a chance to shine throughout 2016 in (February 9 – December 24).

We'll be updating this list throughout the year as more and more amazing exhibitions are announced. Make sure you check back often to see what's new near you.

Is there anything you're looking forward to this year, or anything we've missed? Let us know by commenting below.

Explore more of our regional guides:

The best exhibitions to see in the East of England in 2016
The best exhibitions to see in London in 2016
The best exhibitions to see in the Midlands in 2016
The best exhibitions to see in the North in 2016
The best exhibitions to see in the South East in 2016
The best exhibitions to see in the South West in 2016
The best exhibitions to see in Wales in 2016

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