Butler's buyer remains mystery
HIS reputation firmly enhanced by the £750,000 sale of his most famous work, Jack Vettriano, the Scottish painter the critics love to hate, had another reason to smile yesterday.
With the art world still in shock at the record price for The Singing Butler, Vettriano revealed that the pouting brunette draped over a chez longue in one of his newest works, is actually his girlfriend.
Along Came A Spider is one of 35 new works by the former mining engineer that will feature in an exhibition at London’s Portland Gallery in June.
Speculation as to the identity of the model is now certain to match the level of interest in just who purchased the Vettriano painting at Hopetoun House on Monday night.
Sir Tom Farmer, the founder of Kwik-Fit and one of the richest men in Scotland, was among the buyers at the auction of Jack Vettriano paintings at Sotheby’s, it has emerged.
Sir Tom was spotted in the 300-strong crowd at Hopetoun House on Monday night - discreetly working with a bidder. Asked if had bought any of the paintings, he said: "I did not buy The Singing Butler, I can assure you of that. But I have admired Jack Vettriano’s work for many many years."
The Singing Butler had been hanging quietly in the home of a Fife art collector, Alex Cruickshank, for six years before it sold for 744,800 at auction.
But the work, among the best-known images in the world, appeared to have disappeared again - for now - into the secretive, sensitive world of wealthy art collectors and their auctioneers. Asked if he knew who had bought the painting yesterday, Sir Tom said: "I haven’t a clue."
Sotheby’s has said the buyer was a UK-based collector with a strong interest in Scottish art, not merely Vettriano’s work.
Vettriano’s agent, Tom Hewlett, said: "The buyer is a UK-based collector but at least half a dozen of the people bidding for that particular painting were not."
The buyer was not, he said, the lyricist Sir Tim Rice - a name widely whispered in the wake of the Sotheby’s auction. "I think it’s somebody new to collecting Jack’s work but not to the art scene," he said.
Vettriano himself left Scotland on Monday night and would not give any interviews. "He’s absolutely thrilled with what happened, but in many ways he’s a very modest fellow, a very humble fellow and doesn’t want to be thought of as gloating about the price because he’s not that kind of person," said Mr Hewlett.
Vettriano, a self-taught artist, only took up painting after a girlfriend gave him a box of watercolours when he was 21. He has described himself in interviews as something of a Lothario, but is reported to have bought a property in Oxford recently with his new partner.
A second painting for the London exhibition, reproduced for the first time in The Scotsman today, is Jealous Heart, where a man peering through a seaside telescope bears a marked resemblance to the 53-year-old painter. The gallery said the work was not a true-self portrait but that Vettriano does use himself as a generic male model - because he’s "cheap, reliable and discreet".
Speculation over the buyer of The Singing Butler included celebrity fans of Vettriano, from the comic actor Robbie Coltrane to the design guru Sir Terence Conran. The Queen is also said to be an admirer.
Sir Tim had been reckoned to be a good bet. He has described Vettriano’s world as one of "a cool, sharp world of edgy romance and sexual tension", praising an ability "to make you feel nostalgic for things you never actually experienced in the first place".
"If you buy a Peploe, would you buy a Vettriano?" said one observer, referring to the work of the Scottish colourist Samuel John Peploe. The much- admired painter’s Still Life with Red and Pink Rose sold at the Hopetoun House auction for 263,200. He had previously set the record for the highest price paid for a Scottish painting.
A spokeswoman for the broadcaster Kirsty Wark, thought to be a fan, said she had been out of the country and had not bid for any of the 14 Vettriano works on sale. Mostly selling for two or three times the estimates, the paintings sold for close to 2 million.
There was speculation that Vettriano’s works were too explicit for Sir Tom, the Scottish Catholic entrepreneur who founded Kwik-Fit in 1971 and sold the chain to car-maker Ford for 1.2 billion in 1999. But while the sale included three of his openly erotic works, others were pictures of innocence. The Umbrella, for example, a study of a girl stepping out on a windy beach, in pastel colours, went under the hammer for 66,000.
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