HE HAS had a tricky relationship with Scotland’s leading art gallery at the best of times. Now, on the eve of his first major retrospective, Jack Vettriano has hit out at the National Galleries in Edinburgh, saying he would have been “foolish” to have waited for it to exhibit a collection of his work.
The 61-year-old artist, who will have more than 100 of his most famous paintings hung at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum between September and February 2014, told Scotland on Sunday he was “overwhelmed” to have been asked to hold the exhibition in the city.
However, he added that he wasn’t going to wait to be asked by the National Galleries, which famously declined to exhibit a series of his work in the past amid a row over the quality of his painting.
Despite his reputation as one of Scotland’s most famous living artists, Vettriano’s self-portrait, The Weight, which was hung in the National Portrait Gallery in 2011, is his only painting to be exhibited by the National Galleries, and is due to be returned to a private collection next year.
On his acceptance by Kelvingrove, he said: “I can only look at it as first come, first served. I think that anybody in my shoes would be foolish to say it’s got to be the National Galleries or nothing at all.”
The Fife-born artist added: “When I was first asked to contemplate a retrospective in Glasgow I was absolutely overwhelmed by it. You’ll be aware I have had my issues over the years with public spaces. People tend to forget the four exhibitions I’ve had have exhibited only in London and Kirkcaldy, rather than any other galleries.”
Vettriano said the process of selecting the paintings for the retrospective, all of which are on loan from private collections and some of which are going on display for the first time in almost 20 years, had been “tortuous”.
“There are some which I like because of the technical ability, and some that I like because the public like them,” he said. “They’re all there for good reasons. It’s been a fairly tortuous process getting it all together, but I’m absolutely overjoyed to be showing there.”
The exhibition will include works such as Mad Dogs and Dance Me To The End Of Love, both of which have become extremely popular prints. One of his most famous paintings, The Singing Butler, sold at auction in 2004 for £744,000 and the poster is a global bestseller
His works are owned by celebrities including Jack Nicholson, Sir Alex Ferguson and Robbie Coltrane, and he has painted famous faces including Zara Phillips, and most recently, Strictly Come Dancing star Kara Tointon.
Yet, despite the popularity of his work, some critics have sneered at his “biscuit tin” art.
Richard Calvocoressi, former director of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, once said Vettriano was “a media creation” whose “popularity rests on cheap commercial reproductions of his paintings”, while Sandy Moffat, former head of painting at the Glasgow School of Art, once remarked that “he can’t paint; he just colours in”.
However, Vettriano said he had no intention of hanging up his paint brush, despite seeing his first retrospective being hung.
“Lucian Freud said he’d prefer to die at his easel, and I think I’m the same,” he said. “I don’t want to die in a hospital bed. I’d much rather just collapse at my easel.”
He said he was working on a new exhibition of paintings, much of it inspired by his time in the south of France, as well as several new pieces of erotica, that he hoped to show to the public next year.
A number of Scottish artists have received National Galleries retrospectives over the years, including John Bellany, Dame Elizabeth Blackadder, Joan Eardley and the colourist SJ Peploe.
In response to the question of whether a Vettriano retrospective is something the National Galleries would consider, a spokesperson for the National Galleries of Scotland said: “We have no active plans, but it isn’t something that we would rule out for the future.”
Councillor Archie Graham, chair of Glasgow Life and depute leader of Glasgow City Council, said: “Kelvingrove currently displays a self-portrait by Jack Vettriano which has proved immensely popular among visitors, so we are delighted to be extending this relationship between Scotland’s best-loved artist and Glasgow’s most-treasured attraction.”