The historian Thomas Carlyle, the author of On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History, presented his theory of the importance of individuals in shaping history. He was an active, positive force in the establishment of the National Portrait Gallery in London and in Edinburgh. The ‘Great Man’ view of history has been challenged and is largely abandoned, but the idea of individual hero figures and role models continues to inform society and our ideas of identity and nationhood.
This exhibition re-examines some major Scottish figures, from Thomas Carlyle to Andrew Carnegie, raises questions about the nature of hero-worship and the values that were upheld by our Victorian forebears, and considers the influence exerted by military men, scientists and inventors who helped shape the modern world. Women artists, scientists, writers and suffragists provide a strong female presence, and Queen Victoria’s personal influence on the age over which she presided institutionally is examined.