Organisation and History


Aberdeen Archives, Gallery & Museums (AAGM) cares for collections of outstanding importance and quality on behalf of the people of Aberdeen. Our collections, buildings, exhibitions and events are an important aspect of life for everyone who lives, works, studies and visits Aberdeen. As part of Aberdeen City Council’s Place: City Growth team, we share the city's rich heritage and care for outstanding collections that are recognised by UNESCO and the Scottish Government as nationally and internationally important. The historical records of Aberdeenshire Council are also preserved and managed by the team.  


Aberdeen Archives, Gallery & Museums 

The entire collection was awarded Recognised Collection of National Significance status in 2007. The collection connects Aberdeen’s unique past, present and future, inspiring and empowering our communities to love their own culture and sharing that pride with the wider world. We continue to develop an inspirational collection with a focus on themes of art, heritage, social history and culture. The collection reflects our city of Aberdeen and its place in the world as a creative, industrial, social and artistic centre, raising the profile of Aberdeen and north east Scotland. Through partnerships, networks and loans the Service also is a major contributor to UK national museum provision and has an international reputation. 

The collection is accessed and displayed at Aberdeen Art Gallery, Aberdeen Maritime Museum, The Tolbooth Museum, Aberdeen Treasure Hub Museum Centre, the search rooms at Old Aberdeen House and the Town House.


Our Founders 

The origins of Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums can be traced to 1873 when local flour merchant and art collector John Forbes White and a number of local art collectors decided to hold a public exhibition to display their collections. From this developed a plan to establish a public art gallery for the benefit of citizens, an objective that continues to drive our programmes of activity today. 

Aberdeen's handsome granite Art Gallery, designed by Alexander Marshall Mackenzie, opened in 1885. It is one of the finest Victorian galleries in the UK. The original displays combined industrial exhibitions with exhibitions of art and were greatly enhanced by generous gifts, including the private collection of Aberdeen granite merchant Alexander Macdonald in 1900.  


Rapid expansion  

The relatively modest suite of rooms was rapidly and substantially expanded and modified between 1885 and 1926. In 1905the Sculpture Court was added to accommodate a plaster cast collection from which art students at the newly-established Gray's School of Art, at that time adjacent to the Art Gallery, could practice drawing. 

In 1907 the Town Council assumed responsibility for the building and its growing collections. In the 1920s further development took place with the addition of the city's War Memorial and the Cowdray Hall, opened by King George V and Queen Mary in 1925. The cost of the War Memorial was met by public subscription. The Cowdray Hall, a unique recital venue, was supported by a gift from Annie, Viscountess Cowdray, "with a view to encouraging the taste for art and music in the City of Aberdeen".  


Regional Museum 

In 1937 the Regional Museum opened in the basement below the Cowdray Hall, with displays of local history, natural history and geology. It closed in the 1970s, making way for a new display space in James Dun's House on Schoolhill (also now closed).  


Provost Skene’s House  

In the 1930s plans were made to restore and refurbish Cumberland House, a fine 16th-century town house in Guestrow. In 1953 it was opened by Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother as Provost Skene’s House, displaying domestic history artefacts. In 1993 the Friends of Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums supported a major refurbishment of the period room settings, allowing more of the furniture collections to go on display. In 2021 it will re-open to visitors, celebrating local heroes and their scientific discoveries, inventions, sporting achievements and contributions to our cultural lives.  


James McBey Print Room and Library 

The James McBey Print Room and Art Library opened at Aberdeen Art Gallery in 1961. This fitting tribute to the Aberdeenshire-born artist (1883-1959) was thanks to the generosity of his widow, Marguerite, who left another substantial bequest when she died in 1999.  


Images of James & Marguerite

The extraordinary story of McBey’s life of art and adventure is now told in the redeveloped Art Gallery which opened in November 2019 and a new McBey Library is now accessible to visitors.


Aberdeen Maritime Museum 

In 1984 Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother opened Aberdeen Maritime Museum in Provost Ross's House on Shiprow. The museum was designed to tell the story of Aberdeen's maritime history and the impact of North Sea oil. The building was expanded in 1997 with an award-winning glass link that joins two historic buildings, Provost Ross’s House and Trinity Church. This transformation facilitated extensive displays of maritime exhibits, including paintings and artefacts telling the story of the North Sea, which for centuries has influenced life in Aberdeen, from fishing to the oil and gas industries.

The Tolbooth Museum 

Aberdeen City Council continued to expand its museum provision when the Tolbooth opened in 1995. One of the oldest buildings in Aberdeen, which includes 17th century prison cells, this museum traces Aberdeen's civic history, including the history of crime and punishment.


Aberdeen Treasure Hub Museum Collection Centre

This state-of-the-art storage and research facility, completed in 2016, is where we care for Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums’ incredible collections of art and history when they are not on public display. These include paintings, sculpture, archaeology, science and industry, maritime history, costume and decorative art. We welcome visitors, schools and special interest groups for behind-the-scenes tours and research visits, with our dedicated staff and volunteers on hand to answer questions. 

Volunteers also help us document and care for the collections on site. For more information on current volunteer projects visit:


Aberdeen Art Gallery Redevelopment 

Between 2015 and 2019 Aberdeen Art Gallery underwent a landmark transformation with major support from Aberdeen City Council and the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Hoskins Architects led a programme of “careful repair and confident addition”. Investment in the fabric of the 130-year-old Grade A-listed buildings included a re-imagined Remembrance Hall, refurbished Cowdray Hall concert venue, new exhibition and collection display galleries and vastly improved visitor facilities. The number of collection galleries has increased from 11 to 19, with a further three galleries presenting a programme of regularly changing special exhibitions. The number of items on display has increased from 370 in 2015 to 1,080. Exhibition specialists Studioarc were responsible for the design of the galleries, digital strategy and signage.   

The building and its streetscape have been re-designed to meet the needs of all visitors, creating level access throughout, installing a passenger lift for the first time in the building’s history,  accessible toilets and a  Changes Places Toilet which incorporates a height adjustable adult-sized changing bench and a hoist system.  

The project’s major funders were Aberdeen City Council, which pledged £14.6m from capital funds, and the National Lottery Heritage Fund with a £10m contribution.BP donated £1m to the redevelopment project, with the BP Galleries to host three national and international exhibitions a year, and the UK Government awarded £1.5m from the HM Treasury Libor funds to support the major renovations in the Remembrance Hall. Find out more about all our supporters here.

Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums Development Trust was established in 2015 and led the philanthropic fundraising campaign. Donations are still welcome and for a limited time, donors pledging £2,500 can join the Founder Patrons, following in the footsteps of our original founders. 


Today, Aberdeen Art Gallery is a welcoming, safe and accessible public building - a world-class venue worthy of  both the exceptional artwork it houses and - importantly - our local, national and international visitors.