JOHN Bellany was smiling and joking with his family around him in the last hours before his death, the celebrated painter’s loved ones have disclosed.
Paul Bellany, one of his three children, said his father had a bed moved into his Cambridgeshire studio for the last four months of his life and died there on Wednesday, surrounded by relatives.
He said the health of the 71-year-old had declined since a bout of pneumonia at the end of last year, shortly after launching a major retrospective exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery.
Mr Bellany was at his father’s bedside along with his wife, Helen, and his other son Jonathan, although his daughter, Anya, was overseas on holiday.
The East Lothian-born artist, whose work can be found in some of the world’s leading galleries, had suffered a string of medical problems, including depression, alcoholism, a liver transplant and a heart attack.
Paul Bellany, who said his father’s funeral was expected to be held in Edinburgh, probably the week after next, added that the entire family had been touched by the reaction to his death and the tributes that followed.
He added: “It’s been amazing. We’ve had messages from all over the world within less than 24 hours of him passing away.
“It was nice to see people like Alex Salmond paying tribute to him and the tribute from Ian Rankin, whom he was a big fan of and had been really chuffed to meet a few years ago.
“He had been at home in Cambridgeshire for the last few months after coming out of hospital. He had been in hospital with pneumonia last year but they said he might be better off coming home, as he did not have long to go, and he had his bed moved into the ground-floor studio. He had been in good spirits but his health really deteriorated over the last few weeks and he was bed-bound.
“It was strangely pleasant and quite touching when he passed away. He had all the family around him and was able to talk to us. He was even smiling and joking. They didn’t see him in any agony or pain.
“He had Scotland flowing through his veins. We actually thought he was going to leave us during the Scotland-England football game at Wembley the other week. He was looking uncomfortable when Scotland were winning.”
Meanwhile, First Minister Mr Salmond said: “He had an abiding spirit which made him such excellent company. He was also committed to great causes and he donated a wonderful painting, a feast of colour, depicting Macduff Harbour, as the subject of the First Minister’s Homecoming Christmas card in 2008.”
A tribute from national arts agency Creative Scotland said: “John Bellany was an artist whose work occupies a unique position in the history of Scottish art.”
Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota said: “John Bellany brought a distinctive voice to British Art. Unusually for a British painter, his roots lay in the traditions of northern European expressionism rather than in the School of Paris, that is to say in Munch and Beckmann, rather than Picasso and Matisse.”
And Professor Christopher Breward, principal of Edinburgh College of Art, where Bellany studied, said: “His legacy is a powerful one. We are very proud of the years he spent as a student here and of his enduring contribution to painting.”