Jack Vettriano
Biography, Genre Paintings, Posters.

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Jack Vettriano (b.1951)


Early Influences
First Paintings
Discovering His Style as a Painter
First Exhibitions
Genre Paintings By Vettriano (1987-1993)
The Singing Butler
Mature Works

For a brief guide, see:
English Figurative Painting.

For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.
For some of the top British
artists, see: Best English Painters.
For the greatest genre-painting, see:
Best Genre Painters.

For an explanation of the
terminology, see:
Art: Definition and Meaning.


Among the most popular contributors to British contemporary painting, the self-taught Scottish painter Jack Vettriano is one of Scotland's best known modern artists, and a leading figure in British contemporary art. His formulaic style of genre-painting, typically set in the 1930s, either at the seaside or in dance halls, restaurants and hotels, is highly recognisable for its erotic or suggestive content, and has become known mainly through reproduction on calendars and greeting cards. Highly popular with the general public, though not with art critics or curators, reproductions of his works outsell even those of Van Gogh's Sunflowers and Monet's Water Lilies. In 2004, one of Vettriano's most recognizable 20th century paintings, The Singing Butler (1992) smashed its pre-sale estimate of £200,000 and sold at auction for £744,800, setting a world record for a Scottish painting. Not unlike Damien Hirst, whom the art world has still not fully embraced as an artist, Vettriano has yet to be accepted by the best art museums, despite his enormous commercial success. However, unlike Hirst or other artists such as Tracey Emin, it is hard to see Vettriano winning the Turner Prize, even if he wanted to.


Jack Vettriano is one of the most
popular of 20th century painters.

Early Influences

Jack Vettriano was born in 1951, in industrial Fife, Scotland. He was raised in the shadow of the local collieries where his father worked as a miner. 'All roads lead back to where I grew up', Vettriano once said. Although the local towns were drab, they did have two faded ballrooms – the glamour of which hooked the young Vettriano, as did the women who frequented them in their high heels, crimson lipstick and beehive hair styles. He didn't know it at the time, but those memories of Art Deco balconies, the smell of cigarettes, men in black tie, would fire his imagination later in life, and give direction to his personal artistic style. From a young age, Vettriano liked to draw and sketch images - but at 15, like his father before him, he finished school and started his mining apprenticeship. This proved shortlived, and after he quit he drifted for several years, living in London and Edinburgh. The turning point came when he was 22, when a girlfriend bought him a set of poster paints. Already able to draw, Vettriano borrowed art books from the library and set about teaching himself how to paint.


First Paintings

Vettriano's first paintings were pastiche copies of the Impressionists; his first painting was a copy of Monet's Poppy Fields. From this he moved to Picasso and Salvador Dali. He quickly learned how to copy originals, but gradually became more concerned to discover his own style and subject matter. In 1979 he had amassed enough works to hold his own exhibition, not in the UK, but Bahrain, where he had secured a job as a management consultant. No-one bought any of the paintings, but this did not disturb the artist who said 'I was just painting for myself'. He moved back to Scotland in 1981, married and began to spend more of his spare time painting. The search to find his own artistic style became an obsession. 'I didn't want to spend my life copying other people. I knew I had to start thinking about those things that meant something to me'. He became introspective, his friendships and marriage took a back seat.

Discovering His Style As a Painter

Sometime in the mid 1980s, Vettriano had a Eureka moment, realising that his subject matter had been in front of him the whole time - his lifelong obsession with women, particularly women who dressed in a provocative manner with stockings, low cut tops and vivid red lipstick. His second obsession was nostalgia for places of the past, dance halls, railway stations and beach fronts. His first two important paintings: Portrait of Gail and Saturday Night were submitted to the Royal Scottish Academy in 1988. Both paintings sold within 15 minutes of the opening. His first artistic success however was offset by the collapse of his marriage. Leaving the family home, he moved into a small studio and for the first time in his life, painted all day. Up until this point, he had signed his paintings Jack Hogan, his father's name, but from this time forward changed it to Vettriano, his mother's maiden name. As a result of his Academy success, Vettriano was now courted by galleries and suddenly found he had orders to fulfil.

First Exhibitions

In 1991 the Solstice Gallery in Edinburgh tried to convince Vettriano to agree to a solo show, but the artist did not yet feel confident enough. Instead he agreed to a joint show with the artist Joan Renton, as part of the Edinburgh Festival. The exhibition was an overwhelming success and in May 1992 Vettriano held his first solo show, Tales of Love and Other Stories at the Edinburgh Gallery, Dundas Street. One of his popular paintings from this show was A Kind of Loving, a man standing in front of a row of mannequins, embracing them with a lover’s zeal. The artist wrote of his inspiration 'Here is a man so involved in his own world that he doesn't have time for relationships, he's not good at them. But he loves to look at the female form, so he keeps these dresses in his home which he now and then takes out to gaze at'.

Genre Paintings By Vettriano (1987-1993)

Popular early examples of Vettriano's nostalgic representational art include Queen of the Fan-Dan: a red-jacked madam is surrounded by her clients, holding a candelabrum to light their cigarettes. Other works from this period include Cleo and The Boys; Evening Racing; The Star Cafe; A Very Dangerous Beach; Amateur Philosophers; Right Time, Right Place; Narcissistic Bathers and Mad Dogs. These paintings began to establish Vettriano as one of Britain's most popular realist artists. As Tom Hewlett of the Portland Gallery wrote of Vettriano's paintings: 'What attracted me is the narrative realism of his painting...like reading a book, your mind puts together the scene as described by the author...it enables the viewer to engage with the painting and then develop it'. Vettriano's love of manipulating light and dark, no doubt influenced by Rembrandt's mastery of chiaroscuro, is one of the characteristics of his works.

The Singing Butler

In 2004 Vettriano's painting The Singing Butler, became Scotland's most expensive painting ever sold at auction. Originally exhibited in the Solstice Gallery in 1992, the painting sold for £3,000, after being rejected by the Scottish Arts Council and by the Royal Academy of Art in London. In 1998 the painting was sold again for £33,000. The day after the 2004 Sotheby sale the Scotsman Newspaper ran a feature canvassing art experts, curators, writers, painters, even a butler on what they thought of Vettriano. The reaction was very positive, and gradually his work has achieved recognition by the critics. The Singing Butler depicts a male butler and maid holding umbrellas while their Master and Mistress dance on the beach. Research has shown that the figure drawing in the painting was 'lifted' from an Illustrator's Figure Reference Manual. Vettriano admitted that he used such sources in early years as he could not afford to hire models. In 2010 the artist commented that he does not want to be remembered for The Singing Butler, but would rather be known for his interior paintings.

Mature Works

In 1999 Vettriano showed his work for the first time in New York, when 21 paintings were shown at the International 20th Century Arts Fair at The Armory. More than 40 collectors flew out from London to attend the show, and all paintings sold on the opening night. Film and Film Noir has played an important part in shaping Vettriano's later works. The Billy Boys, a group of 4 men walking along a beach, is a title taken from a poster of Quentin Tarantino's film Reservoir Dogs. Around this time, he moved to a Georgian house in Edinburgh, and painted the walls a dramatic crimson. Many of his paintings from this time onwards tend to be set in interior locations: A Mutal Understanding; The Trap; The Master of Ceremonies; and We Can't Tell Right From Wrong. In 2006, Sir Terence Conran commissioned Vettriano to create a series of paintings for his new Bluebird Club in London. Conran sold the paintings in 2007 at auction, and they raised more than £1 million.


Although Vettriano's paintings now regularly fetch prices in the six figures, it is thought that he earns more from poster art and from limited editions of his most popular paintings. Editions of The Singing Butler, in the format of posters, cards and postcards sell more than any other reproductions in the UK. In 2009 Vettriano launched his own publishing company, Heartbreak Publishing, to distribute images on his own and other artist's works. In 2008 Vettriano collaborated with Formula One legend, Sir Jackie Stewart on a triptych of painting Tension, Timing Triumph, Monaco 1971. The original painting hangs in Sir Stewart's private collection, and both men have signed limited editions prints of the work.

In 2004 Vettriano was awarded the OBE. In 2010, an exhibition of his latest works Days of Wine and Roses opened at the Kirkcaldy Museum in Fife, Scotland and transferred later that year to Milan and London. Vettriano continues to work, dividing his time between Edinburgh and France. His narrative style continues to draw comparisons to the work of Walter Sickert and Edward Hopper - and show influences of Scotland's distinctive colourist traditions. We think Vettriano is a welcome change from postmodernist art with all its pretentious novelty and intellectualism.

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