Hundreds attend artist John Bellany’s funeral

HE was the highly acclaimed painter whose works of art hanging in galleries across the globe portray the weather-beaten and at times grim Scotland that he adored.

John Bellany's cortege passes through Port Seton Harbour. Picture: HeMedia
John Bellany's cortege passes through Port Seton Harbour. Picture: HeMedia

Hundreds of mourners have attended the funeral of John Bellany, the East Lothian painter inspired by the tragedies of the fishing community he was raised in.

First Minister Alex Salmond and artists Richard Demarco and John Byrne were among those who paid their respects at a packed funeral service in Edinburgh yesterday.

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Bellany died on Wednesday 28 August at his studio aged 71. His family said he was “clutching a paint brush in his hand as he took his final breath”.

John Bellany's cortege passes through Port Seton Harbour. Picture: HeMedia

His three children paid tribute to their father during the celebration of his life at St Giles’ Cathedral on the city’s Royal Mile.

Paul Bellany said: “He was always inspiring, brave and bold, and although now sadly gone, he is still inspiring.

“The skipper has gone, sailed on into an Eyemouth sunset, but his spirit remains and I only need to look into the eyes of the characters upon any of his vibrant canvases to know that the fire still blazes and will blaze on for many years to come.”

Jonathan Bellany paid tribute to “my best friend, my favourite artist and the best father I could ever have dreamed of having”.

Anya Bellany Sparks said she felt “like an essential part of myself has been lost forever”.

She said: “And it is a good part, a part that is always open to thought and light and possibilities. Thank you dad for being my giant.”

BBC broadcaster Baroness Bakewell gave a reading while Mario Conti, Archbishop Emeritus of Glasgow, led the congregation in prayer.

A traditional figurative artist painting portraying the grim realities of growing up in the fishing town of Port Seton, he depicted gnarled, emaciated fishermen and their struggling families.

His style was at odds with the pop art and minimalism of the swinging 1960s but Bellany would come to be regarded as among Scotland’s finest and most prolific artists.

He had at times a chaotic personal life and underwent a pioneering liver transplant in 1988 after years of alcoholism, followed by three heart attacks.

He would produce brighter, more colourful works after moving to Barga, Tuscany, though he said East Lothian and Edinburgh, where he had a flat in the New Town looking onto the Forth, remained his true home.

Alexander Moffat, the Scots artist, delivered the eulogy to his long-time university friend.

He said: “For most of his life John went against the fashion. He stood his ground like a true Celtic warrior, simply stating ‘time will tell’.

“He said being Scottish has always mattered enormously, I carry Scotland in my soul. Wherever I go and meet people, Family, Port Seton, East Lothian then Scotland are the definition of identity, his sense of nation and a starting point for his dialogue with the countries of the world.”

Afterward, those who attended gathered on Parliament Square to exchange anecdotes from his colourful life.

John Byrne, the playwright and artist, was a friend of Bellany’s since they studied at the Edinburgh School of Art.

He told The Scotsman: “He was huge, enormous, a giant of the art world. He was such a wonderful man as well, he really was. He was wonderfully generous, a great Scottish hero.”

Bellany’s paintings feature in the collections of galleries including the National Galleries of Scotland, Tate Britain in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He was awarded a CBE by the Queen in 1994.

Richard Demarco, the arts impresario and promoter, added: “I knew John all my life, we first met when we were students.

He said: “He recovered the great tradition of European painting that goes back to Rembrandt, where the whole agony of the human experience that can be defined in paint.

“On the other hand he also expressed the joy of being alive in his later works.

“His contribution was enormous and he was single minded in his work.”

He added: “The service here today was among the finest I have seen, with so many from Scottish society here to celebrate his life. “He would have been grateful, and proud.”