JACK Vettriano’s iconic painting The Singing Butler goes on public display today for the first time in 20 years.
The oil painting of a couple dancing on a beach while a butler holds an umbrella over them goes on show as part of the From Van Gogh to Vettriano - Hidden Gems from Private Collections exhibition at Aberdeen Art Gallery.
The work, which set a Scottish record when it sold at auction for £745,000 at Sotheby’s in London in 2004, has been loaned to the gallery for the exhibition by a private collector in Scotland.
Last night Vettriano told The Scotsman that he never imagined that when he painted The Singing Butler it would still interest people and that for it to re-appear alongside works by the likes of Vincent Van Gogh was “a fate I could never have predicted nor dared to wish for it”.
The majority of the 61 paintings and one sculpture on show, including the Vettriano, are on loan from private art collectors in the north-east of Scotland and cover both Scottish and international exhibits from the 1870s to the present day.
The Van Gogh work, Un homme assis avec fillette (1882), in black chalk and pencil on paper, is one of the artist’s early drawings from when he was living in the Netherlands and features an elderly man and a girl.
The exhibition, which is free of charge, encompasses a wide range of styles and includes works by Camille Pissaro, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Stanley Spencer, Paul Nash, Lucian Freud and RB Kitaj.
Scottish artists include EA Hornel, William McTaggart, Joseph Farquharson, SJ Peploe and JD Fergusson.
Dr Jennifer Melville, lead curator of art at Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums, said having Vettriano and Van Gogh as the main attractions would attract a wide range of visitors.
“There has been a long debate about Vettriano’s work and The Singing Butler will be one of the main draws,” she said. “What we have here is a broad spectrum of art and something which many people will find challenging. It really will encompass the varied taste of visitors.
“I got the works through personal contacts with the collectors. We approached the owners and it was all quite straightforward.
“But it can be difficult to give up a prized collection, even on loan, and be left rattling around with empty walls.”
Fife-born Vettriano has said he regards Van Gogh as one of his artistic heroes and that his work had been “fundamental in my spiritual awakening”.
Vettriano said: “When I first painted it, I never imagined that The Singing Butler would still be of interest to people more than 20 years later.
“For it to now reappear in an exhibition featuring work by such an illustrious group of artists, including some personal heroes of mine, is a fate I could never have predicted nor dared to wish for it. I feel both honoured and humbled to be placed in this peer group.
“I had the privilege of an early look at the exhibition yesterday and would urge people to visit it – there is the most gorgeous Peploe, which alone makes the trip worthwhile. A great idea, to encourage private collectors to share their treasured possessions with the public and I do hope lots of people go to see these paintings before they disappear back behind private doors once more.”
• From Van Gogh to Vettriano – Hidden Gems from Private Collections, Aberdeen Art Gallery, 4 February -14 April 2012. Free.