Unseen work by John Bellany lined up for Holyrood

Bellany's "Wounded Soldier", oil on canvas, 2008. Picture: Contributed
Bellany's "Wounded Soldier", oil on canvas, 2008. Picture: Contributed
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PREVIOUSLY unseen paintings and drawings by one of Scotland’s greatest 20th-century artists in his final years of life are to go on display at Holyrood.

John Bellany created the works in honour of the work of the 1,500 women who served in the Scottish Women’s Hospitals in the First World War and the Edinburgh doctor who founded them, Elsie Inglis.

The family of the late East Lothian artist, who passed away two years ago, has agreed to the loan of a series of works exploring the subject of war, field hospitals, nursing and the experiences of the injured soldiers.

Bellany is thought to have spent around five years working on the tributes to Inglis, who set up 14 medical units largely staffed by women across Europe. She had offered help to Britain’s allies after being rebuffed by War Office, where she was infamously told: “Go home and sit still.”

The exhibition, which will run from January-April, will feature rarely-seen archive photographs, film footage and objects on loan from public and private collections to tell the wider story of the hospitals, which provided nurses, doctors, ambulance drivers, cooks and orderlies. Bellany, who studied at Edinburgh College of Art, was to become one of Scotland’s leading contemporary artists and was well known for landscapes and harbour scenes inspired by his native Port Seton.

He created some of his most famous work while recovering from a liver transplant in 1988. Almost as soon as he came out of intensive care he started creating portraits of himself, his doctors and his nurses.

Parliament officials say around 15 Bellany works will feature in the show. It will be accompanied by a series of special events, film screenings and lectures about the hospitals and the Bellany works they inspired.

Helen Bellany, his widow, said: “John was moved to produce a body of work in celebration of those remarkable women as an echo of what he knew a whole generation of doomed young men would have felt for the care and comfort they had been given at the lowest point of their lives.

“Even then, they had been given hope and they had been given the understanding that they mattered.”

Holyrood’s presiding officer Tricia Marwick said: “The iconic work of John Bellany, one of Scotland’s most loved artists, will be instrumental in bringing the subject to life.”