SEVENTEEN works by renowned British artist Jenny Saville are being shown at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (SNGMA) until mid September, the first major museum exhibition of the Glasgow School of Art graduate’s work to be held in Scotland, and the third in the UK.

Known internationally for her vast, highly physical depictions of the body, Saville first came to prominence in 1994 when leading collector Charles Saatchi bought her postgraduate show.

It was the same year the artist reached a wider audience when her dazzling, 21-foot-long triptych Strategy (South Face/Front Face/North Face) appeared on the cover of Manic Street Preachers’ landmark album The Holy Bible.

Fifteen years later, the Welsh band chose Saville’s portrait Stare for their Journal For Plague Lovers LP, a record that the big-four UK supermarkets presented in a plain slip cover as they had decided Saville’s brush work could upset some customers.

As frontman James Dean Bradfield said: “You can have lovely shiny buttocks and guns everywhere in the supermarket on covers of magazines and CDs, but you show a piece of art and people just freak out.”

Calling out our hypocrisy over depictions of the human body, Bradfield’s quip also touches on the visceral power of Saville’s work. Often compared with Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, her work can be similarly disquieting and raw. Subverting traditional figure painting – especially of the idealised female form seen through the male gaze – Saville’s work is fleshy and sensual, with her large-scale paintings often showing surgery marks and vast rolls of flesh. Vulnerable and confrontational, they can both unsettle and liberate.

Lucy Askew, senior curator at the gallery, worked closely with Saville in developing the exhibition, which spans 26 years of work from early paintings to recent charcoal and pastel drawings.

“She’s an artist we’ve been interested in for a long time,” says Askew. “Her work has always got a great response. As well as the legacy of her practise in coming out of Glasgow in the early and mid 1990s, we’re interested in her new work coming out of more recent exhibitions in Oxford and London.”

Askew says the SNGMA was lucky enough to be able to source the majority of the works they wished to show. “Jenny has a particularly international profile so it was about first finding out where the works were and then making loan requests to other galleries and institutions and individuals,” she says.

“There were a few we had to select replacements for, and doing that kind of work with an artist to develop that selection is always interesting. You get a sense of how they see the relationships between their works.”

Saville’s work forms the centrepiece of the third instalment of NOW, a programme of contemporary art exhibitions SNGMA launched in March 2017. Alongside Saville’s work will be new and recent works by five artists who have explored ideas related to the body, performance, process and materials.

These include a specially conceived installation by South African artist Robin Rhode, video work by Austrian artist Markus Schinwald and work by three female artists based in Scotland: performance artist Catherine Street, sculptor Sara Barker and Christine Borland. The latter’s 2016 installation Positive Pattern was originally commissioned by the Institute of Transplantation in Newcastle to honour organ donors and their families.

Askew says: “We really like the idea of having an exhibition where it would provide a really rich encounter with a single artist’s work and then to use that artist’s practice and selection of work to drive a theme or a set of ideas that are really current.’’

She continues: “The idea of the body is obviously central to Jenny’s work but there’s also a physical, alive quality to it. There’s a kind of performative, live quality to her work; a very stirring presence to her art.”

Until September 16, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern One), Edinburgh, free. Tel: 0131 624 6200.