Jack Vettriano's back with a whole new philosophy

IT IS the figure of an older, wiser man lost in thought, with greying head bowed and studying his own hands.

• The Last Great Romantics is another new work in the show. Picture: Complimentary

In painter Jack Vettriano's first major show of new work in four years, his sombre self-portrait The Weight stands out from more recognisably romantic fare.

And experts believe the portrait could mark the beginning of a new "more philosophical" phase in Vettriano's highly controversial career.

The work, the result of the former coalminer's new collaboration with the Italian photographer Fredi Marcarini, will be shown for the first time at the Kirkcaldy Museum & Art Gallery in a major show of 40 Vettriano pictures that opens next week, alongside Marcarini's own Triptych of the painter.

The Kirkcaldy show takes Vettriano back to his roots, in the gallery where the pictures first inspired him to paint, and where he won two open competitions that set him on the path to becoming a professional artist.

With 40 pictures which include romantic and erotic couples in recognisably Vettriano style, the Days of Wine and Roses show is a strong signal that Vettriano is back, ending a period in which he broke with his long-time gallery and faced claims that some of his iconic images were closely copied from an illustrator's manual.

The title picture, Days of Wine and Roses, is a quirky, colourful piece of a woman in a brightly coloured dress, her face half hidden in an oversized white hat.

One set of paintings is inspired by scenes on Milan's "Giallo Milano" trams, with their distinctive cream and yellow livery, built in 1928 and still running today.

While Vettriano has continued to paint commissions and private shows, including some of the work on show in Kirkcaldy, it marks his first public exhibition of new work in four years, said Lesley Botten, overseeing the exhibition as a team leader at Fife Council's Libraries and Museums.

The former Fife miner twice won prizes in the gallery's open amateur art exhibition, she said. "He says frequently that gave him the confidence to continue. We've had a longstanding relationship with him. It shows his continuing connection in Fife."

If Vettriano continues to divide opinion in Britain, where many artists and critics refuse to accept him as a serious artist, he maintains a strong international following. The gallery had an e-mail from a couple in Dallas, Texas, who want to include the show on their Scottish tour, said Ms Botten.

The Weight was painted by Vettriano "in response" to photographs Marcarini took of him in his London home. A magazine photo shoot with Marcarini, a professional photographer for more than 30 years, lead to a collaboration in which Vettriano directed and chose poses and props for the picture. Marcarini's triptych of photographs will be shown in the exhibition alongside the painting it inspired.

Vettriano has often used himself as a model but formal self-portraits are rare. One leading Scottish art expert, who asked not to be named, said: "He's obviously deep in thought. It's quite a philosophical painting. It seems like he's back painting. Everyone was slightly conscious that he hadn't painted for a while."

In Vettriano's more erotic work, the man might have been shown waiting for a sexual encounter. But Ms Botten said: "You could infer that perhaps the muse has left him for a while."

Nathalie Martin, Vettriano's agent said: "The very nature of self portraiture is an artist looking at himself and Jack is a man prone to introspection. Over the last 20 years there have maybe been ten self-portraits and each has a different mood and atmosphere.

"What is different about this one is that it was the beginning of a collaboration with the photographer who took a picture of Jack ten minutes after meeting him that captured his melancholy state of mind. Like lots of artists and creative people who work on their own, he is prone to melancholy.

"But for me, his self-portraits are among his most painterly works and the ones that will stand the test of time."