Few people could claim to have had as prolific and wide-ranging a career as the artist, novelist, historian and architect James Grant (1822-1887). Grant was born in Scotland and brought up in Canada while his father, Captain John Grant of the Gordon Highlanders, was living there in military barracks from 1833 to 1839. Grant's mother, Mary Anne Watson, had died in 1833 and was perhaps the source of her son's artistic streak as two of her paintings done 'in her girlhood' still survive.
Grant's family returned to England in 1839 and he began to pursue his own military career. However, in 1843 he resigned his commission and entered an architect's office in Edinburgh. Grant spent the following years travelling around Scotland drawing and painting historic buildings and a sketchbook of these works survives in the Central Library, with the images largely dating from 1845 to 1857.
Grant also began write novels, producing 56 novels in his lifetime, all of which were 'yellow-backs' - cheap works with colourful covers. Grant's novels were mostly about military adventures, but there were also some historical novels, such as one about the Earl of Bothwell, Mary Queen of Scots' third husband.
Grant was not only concerned with Scotland's history, but also with contemporary Scottish politics. He founded the National Association for the Vindication of Scottish Rights in 1852 to oppose government centralisation to London and the negative impact this had on Scotland's economy and political representation. In an unpublished article he expressed this impact in architectural terms: 'The Highstreet of Edinburgh, which had long been considered the finest and most bustling thoroughfare in Europe, was so deserted that the grass grew green and rank around its ancient Cross'.
Today Grant is mostly remembered for his three-volume series Old and New Edinburgh, published between 1880 and 1883. Old and New Edinburgh traces the history of Edinburgh through its architecture, with Grant describing the significant buildings, telling stories about famous occupants and incidents which took place there, and illustrating his words with engravings based largely on his own drawings.
All of this shows that Grant was deeply passionate about Scotland's historic architecture; however, Grant's own artistic imagination has not received much attention. This exhibition aims to reveal Grant's inquisitive and creative mind. Grant drew buildings from memory, he imagined how historic ruins could be restored to their former splendour, and he designed new buildings which he unfortunately was not able to see constructed. He was inspired by European architecture and hoped Scotland would embrace unfamiliar but exciting styles. All of these images come from his surviving sketchbook in the Central Library collection, and will hopefully show another side to this talented Scotsman.