On the habitus see Chapter 2, note 20. Some core features are worth re-emphasising,
however. 1) Schemes of perception, the ability to classify, decode or understand practices
and texts are acquired or learnt. Cumulative exposure to particular social conditions, formal/
informal education, for instance, instils in the individual a matrix of dispositions and
strategies which generate behaviours and reactions to familiar ‘events’. 2) These competences are so bound up with the conditions in which they are acquired that they lay outside
the apprehension of the actor. Behaviour appears to take the form of objectively guided
ends – ‘agents to some extent fall into the practice that agents0 agents1’ (Bourdieu, 1990a: 90). 3) Habitus is essentially a corporeal quality in that it exists in and through the bodily practices
of individuals – ways of talking, dressing, holding oneself, moving, looking.
Including some rather pungent smells! Just before the gallery opened in 1859
complaints were made of ‘unwelcome exhalations … in the elevated district at the head of
the Mound, where of all places, one might least expect to suffer from defective drainage’
(Edinburgh Evening Courant, Tuesday 1 March 1859, my emphasis).
From the 1810s to the 1830s private feuars had keys to the nurseries in Prince's Street
Gardens and railway proposals were met with strong opposition from proprietors (including
Lord Meadowbank of the Board of Trustees). By 1844, however, rail interests had gained
sway and agreement was reached to extend the railway to Waverley.
The position of the Gallery, sandwiched between Playfair's other buildings, gives an
added sense of seclusion. To an extent, the Royal Institution building, which directly faced
the busy Prince's Street, cushioned the vagaries of commerce from the National Gallery.
As the former was the home of the Board of Trustees, itself a semi-commercial body, this
would not have posed such a problem.
By virtue of its simplicity and stringency classical also suited the strong current of
Calvinism which ran through Edinburgh society, particularly in its middle-class philanthropic guise. Without espousing programmatic doctrines, committees, trustees and civic
sponsors naturally endorsed classical at a time when superabundance was dealt with
caution. As Nenadic (1994) has argued, the evangelical backlash against luxury and
conspicuous consumption in the wake of the Napoleonic wars and economic downturn had
all sorts of ramifications for Scottish material culture. The anxieties wrought by increased
bankruptcies and unemployment, coupled with the Protestant distrust of fancy and sensuous
culture in the 1820s and 1830s, tempered the acceptability of luxurious furnishings and
clothes. The ensuing approval of a ‘new restraint’ in cultural display – a form of ‘conspicuous parsimony’ – marked itself in the pastoral and paternal novels of the time. The new
restraint also chiselled itself into the Edinburgh skyline in the form of puritanically stringent
classical buildings with very little in the way of ornamentation for relief.
Unless one considers a Foucauldian reversal where it was the art works rather than
the public that were confined and surveyed.
Next door in the Royal Scottish Academy suite of rooms, things appeared even more
crowded. At times, eight hundred and fifty pictures hung in virtually the same available
space as the National Gallery, although temporary exhibitions such as the Royal Scottish
Academy's attracted smaller pictures (the walls of middle-class town houses, where many
of the pictures ended up, could probably not have taken large canvases).
The room's relative isolation also made it less visible to the curators. In the Board's
view, the room was therefore at greater risk from the ‘careless or mischievous visitor’ and
it was logical to dispose less valuable works here (NG 6/7/28).