A book celebrating 10 real masterpieces

Masterpieces from the Scottish National Gallery is an eye-delighting collection of the ten greatest paintings from the gallery in Edinburgh – widely regarded as one of the finest small galleries in the world.

Alongside a broad selection of jewels from Scotland, the stand-out canvases are by Antoine Watteau, John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough and John Singer Sargent.

Some may be surprised at Sargent being among such elevated company,but his Lady Agnew of Lochnaw deserves special attention. Completed in just six sittings in 1892, the portrait was painted entirely from life.

Without even preliminary drawings, this is the prima technique of a showman, risking everything in the moment. Brilliant light pours from a fluid brush. Saturated shadows and sensual light seem to have breath, almost bringing Lady Agnew to life.

In all the paintings featured in this book, representation of the human figure is central to artistic expression. The works proclaim a human reality in form and space, emotion and narrative, which should be as essential to contemporary artists now on view in the galleries.

Another renowned artist here is Gainsborough whose confi dently constructed River Landscape With a View of a Distant Village looks, at first glance, like an example of 17th-century Dutch naturalism. Further examination reveals that everything is a little too perfect, from the symmetry of the clouds and trees, down to the charming dog standing at the end of a dock.

Fascinating to study, however – as with the discovery of the other artists and their masterpieces featured in this marvellous book.

Together, the ten selected works enhance the overall Frick Collection experience. They seem to have been chosen with an eye to the quirks and history of this museum, and not so much for their pure wall power or masterpiece status.

The book is both informative and enticing to flick through.

Masterpieces from the Scottish National Gallery, by John Leighton, published by Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland, £12.95.

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