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New Tartan Exhibition opens for 2023 at the V&A Dundee

1st of April sees the start of the V&A's ambitious new Exhibition "Tartan" the aim of which is to contextualise Tartan within its Scottish traditions but also to reveal just to what extent this unique fabric design has been appropriated into cultures around the World.

Leonie Bell, V&A Dundee Director, says: “Everyone knows tartan, in Scotland and across the world, and it is linked to a hugely diverse range of identities. It is at once the pattern of Highland myth and legend, forever entwined with Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite uprising, as well as being the pattern of 1970s punks and contemporary Japanese fashion influencers."

In what can only be described as "a visual feast" and to demonstrate the extent to which Tartan has influenced culture and especially fashion, The Museum has curated loans from across Scotland and around the world, including Chanel, Dior, Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, Tate, V&A, National Museums of Scotland, National Trust for Scotland, National Theatre of Scotland, The Royal Collection, Fashion Museum Bath, the Highland Folk Museum and more, many of which are being shown together in Scotland for the first time.

Of course the exhibition provides a history of the origins but as we all know there are many strands and myths as to its origins with little evidence to provide credence to many of them. So although the exhibition claims to go back 500 years (and one of the stars of the exhibition is the "Glen Affric" tartan supposedly from the 16th century), its key interest is in how Tartan has been woven into society within the last two centuries. There is increasing acceptance that the "Tartan Explosion" really occurred after George IV's visit to Scotland in 1822 when Sir Walter Scott ensured Tartan was a prominent detail during all the ceremonies and receptions for the King. This event was in many ways the great precursor to modern Tartan and especially its influence on fashion but also its suitability as an influencer.

The Glen Affric Tartan - discovered in a peat bog in Glen Affric approximately 40 years ago, has revealed that it dates back to around 1500-1600 AD.
The Glen Affric Tartan - discovered in a peat bog in Glen Affric approximately 40 years ago, has revealed that it dates back to around 1500-1600 AD. (Image courtesy of The V&A)

The new Exhibition is segmented into 5 main themes starting with Tartan and the Grid which explains the basic structure and technical aspects of the fabric weaving and pattern creation, from which designers can then fashion their own interpretations. The empahsis is on highlighting the adoption of Tartan into non Scottish cultures such as the French or the Japanese and at the same time shows its how it is able transfer itself onto non textile objects and usage in Innovative ways. We get to see how it could be transferred onto every imaginable surface, ensuring its adoption by a wide range of artists, designers and creators.

Moving through the galleries the visitor becomes aware of the evolution of Tartan & Identity; as the Scots diaspora spread across the World taking tartan with them ensuring they carried an element of their identity with them. At the same time Tartan was also being adopted by radical ideas and no more so then in fashion where it quickly provided a means to challenge the normal aesthetic. From the great French Fashion houses, to Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen and now to the new wave of designers like Charles Jeffrey or Owen Snaith Tartan has provided a rebellious twist allowing them once again to challenge boundaries.

And of course challenging is always linked to a type of power grab and in Tartan and Power the exhibition shows how Tartan has been used to disrupt and conform at the same time. Diverse movements such as the Jacobites and 1970's Punks have all used it as a means to challenge and whilst on the other side The British Army used it to instill order and subdue.

And finally in Transcendental Tartan the Exhibition reveals just how omnipresent Tartan has become in that we hardly remark it anymore. In the home, on the street and in everyday objects Tartan has found its place. It has become timeless and perhaps that is principally due to how through its history, it has been able to re-invent itself, re-design itself and adept to place, time and the user.

Kirsty Hassard, Curator at V&A Dundee, points out: “Tartan has been constantly reinvented and that is incredibly important to the narrative of the exhibition. It’s a pattern and textile that stretches back thousands of years, and some of the stories the exhibition tells are 300 years old or more, but Tartan isn’t a retrospective, it is absolutely a contemporary show. “With in excess of 300 objects from more than 80 lenders around the globe, Tartan tells the story of how this pattern has travelled and explores the connection we all have to it.”

This is a 5 Star Exhibition and a must stop on any visit to Scotland.

The Exhibition opens on 1st April 2023 and will run until Sunday, 14 January 2024

Prices are from £7.00 - £16.00 - £2 discount applied when booking online. 18s and under go free. Concessions apply. Advance booking is recommended.

Tickets are now on sale at

V&A Dundee is open 10.00 to 17.00, Wednesday to Monday, and open seven days a week from April 2023.

We have a range of books about Tartans - click to visit the bookshop:

The Official book to accompany the Exhibition is available from the Bookshop at special offer price:

Other Suggestions from the Bookshop:

Further Reading & Related Links:

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