Must-Experience Art: The Fife Arms Hotel


The Fife Arms Hotel, Braemar

The Fife Arms Hotel

The Cairngorm National Park is the UK’s largest national park, located in the Highlands of Scotland. It is known for heather-covered hills, sweeping vistas and awe-inspiring lochs. As is often the case, the stunning scenery has attracted artists throughout history. Nan Shepard wrote her seminal work, The Living Mountain in the Cairngorms and Robbie Burns famously declared:

My heart is in the Highlands, wherever I go.

Artists, including Archibald Thorburn and Edwin Landseer, have devoted their careers to painting the landscape, flora and fauna of the Highlands. 

Sir Edwin Henry Landseer 1802–1873
Loch Avon and the Cairngorm Mountains

Tate Archive

Whether you are a nature lover in search of Cairngorm reindeer, a mountaineer drawn to Ben Macdui, a skier searching for British powder, or someone simply wanting meditative silence, the Cairngorms can provide. Now, art lovers are flocking to remote Braemar to visit the Cairngorms’ newest must-experience art attraction: The Fife Arms Hotel

The Fife Arms began operating as a hotel in the 19th century, but it had lain vacant for many years until Iwan and Manuela Wirth saw the potential to bring it back into a working hotel. Iwan and Manuela are the art world power-couple behind Hauser & Wirth, the Swiss mega-gallery with outposts in the US, the UK, Europe and Asia. They felt a very personal attraction to Braemar and decided to commit time and resources to restore The Fife Arms into an unparalleled art hotel.

You may visit an extraordinary hotel that has a nice art collection. But how about an extraordinary art collection that is also a nice hotel? That is what feels so exceptional about The Fife Arms: from the moment you walk through the front door, the boundary between exhibition space and hotel dissolves, and you find yourself living and breathing the art around you. 

Every surface and space in the hotel is adorned with over 16,000 meticulously selected artworks, artefacts and antiques. There is a distinctive mix of styles, eras, and subject matters: botanical drawings juxtaposed with abstract pieces, illuminated sculptures standing next to austere still lives, and sporrans displayed in glass cases next to taxidermy animals.

Several artists on the Hauser & Wirth roster were commissioned to create site-specific artworks before the hotel opened. Zhang Enli, a contemporary Chinese artist, is responsible for the expansive painting in one of the drawing rooms. 

Zhang Enli Fife Arms Hotel
Zhang Enli (b. 1965)
Ancient Quartz, 2018
Drawing Room

Richard Jackson’s glass chandelier greets guests as they check in – an illuminated modern interpretation of bagpipes and antlers. 

The Fife Arms Red Deer Chandelier By Richard Jackson Photo Sim Canetty Clarke
Richard Jackson (b. 1939)
Red Deer Chandelier, 2018
Stainless steel, glass, plastic, neon, electronic devices
Photo by Sim Canetty Clarke

Guillermo Kuitca, an Argentine artist, was tasked with painting a mural on the wall of the enormous Clunie Dining Room.  Guests are immersed in Kuitca’s Cubistoid shapes, saturated by the sounds of the Clunie River through the windows, and attended by a giant stag as their dinner neighbour.  

Guillermo Kuitca The Fife Arms
Guillermo Kuitca
The Clunie River Mural

Aside from the numerous site-specific artworks, the collection on display as you walk around the hotel is staggering. The Fife Arms must surely be the only place in the world where you can have breakfast under a (Circle of) Pieter Breughel the younger, lunch under a Gerhard Richter, tea under a Lucian Freud and a cocktail under a Pablo Picasso. 

Pablo Picasso Fife Arms Hotel
Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973)
Mousquetaire assis, 23 April 1967
Oil on canvas ~ 116 x 89 cm ~ Drawing Room

When you wander into the courtyard for a breath of fresh air, you are confronted with one of Louise Bourgeois’ stupendous Spider sculptures (another of which is on permanent display outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain).

Louise Bourgeois Fife Arms
Louise Bourgeois (1911 – 2010)
Spider, 1994
Bronze, silver nitrate and brown patina, granite
Internal Courtyard

The Fife Arms is an extraordinary example of what can happen when a hotel is built to showcase art. It is intoxicating to be around such magnificent and varied works of art, and for however long you stay, to experience living with these artworks. Whether you’re admiring Subodh Gupta’s Chandelier for the Fife Arms on your way to the spa, appreciating Martin Creed’s Work No. 1094 (2011) on your way to the gym, or leafing through the art books in the Library, the Fife Arms reminds us why we must live with art.

Subodh Gupta Fife Arms
Subodh Gupta (b.1964)
Chandelier for Fife Arms, 2018
Stainless steel structure, stainless steel utensils
Fire Room

Situated at the heart of the Scottish Highlands, the historic The Fife Arms Hotel offers 46 individual guest rooms and suites decorated to tell the many stories of Braemar. The hotel is located on Mar Rd, Braemar Aberdeenshire AB35 5YN in Scotland. To find out more, please visit The Fife Arms Hotel website.