About this artwork

This highly finished watercolour shows the northern elevation of the Royal Institution, designed by the architect William Henry Playfair. In this picture, Kemp presented the huge structure bathed in a golden light, as befits a temple to the arts. The new building sits comfortably against the backdrop of Edinburgh Castle, and displays Playfair's awareness of the compositional consequences of his designs. The Egyptian sphinxes on the roof above the portico were designed by John Steell, and installed in 1837. This watercolour dates from before 1844, when Steell's massive statue of Queen Victoria as Britannia was installed above the pediment of the front portico.

George Meikle Kemp

George Meikle Kemp

The antiquarian John Sime once referred to Kemp as an 'architectural artist', a reflection of his ambiguous professional status. Kemp originally trained and worked as a carpenter, but he had always been a keen draughtsman and developed an interest in architecture. Kemp particularly admired Gothic buildings and made studies of the medieval abbeys at Melrose, Dryburgh and Jedburgh in the Scottish borders. As an architect, he was largely self-taught. In 1836, he entered and won the competition to design a memorial in Edinburgh to honour the recently deceased writer Sir Walter Scott. This spectacular Neo-Gothic monument was to be Kemp's only architectural legacy to the city: he died in an accident in 1844 and never lived to see it completed.