He's our favourite artist. So why do the galleries hate him so much? Painter whose work tops sales charts lashes out at snobbish elite
David Smith, arts and media correspondent The Observer, Sunday 11 January 2004
The Singing Butler: going for somewhat more then a song He is Britain's most popular artist, outselling Dali, Monet and Van Gogh. A month ago, he rubbed shoulders with David Beckham at Buckingham Palace as both collected OBEs. Yet while even the Queen has embraced the phenomenon of Jack Vettriano, the art establishment stands accused of blackballing him and 'running scared' of public opinion. Vettriano's images of beaches, butlers and lovers have come to adorn everything from posters and cards to mugs and umbrellas, but the nation's major galleries have never displayed a single example of the real thing.
Anyone wishing to see an original Vettriano must travel to Scotland's Kirkcaldy Art Gallery, which has two. Last night the artist, a former mining engineer from Fife, launched a withering attack on the cultural elite that leaves him out in the cold.
In a rare interview, Vettriano said: 'The art world is not a lot to do with art; it's to do with money and power and position. Annually the national galleries are given a budget of taxpayers' money and they should spend it on behalf of the people of Great Britain, but I feel they don't.
"If they've decided you fit what they like, you'll be in; if they've made up their minds otherwise, you never will be. I appear to be in the latter category. If they were truly buying for the people of Great Britain then they would buy my work, that is as clear as day. But they don't.
'I have days when I couldn't care less, and other days when I wonder why the gulf exists. There's a snob association: when something's too popular it's regarded as a bit trashy. But I would rather my paintings sold to ordinary people, rather than being stacked in a store house at the National Gallery.'
Vettriano, 52, has sold more than three million poster reproductions around the world and earns an estimated £500,000 a year from the royalties. The works themselves disappear from public view into the hands of private collectors, with buyers including Hollywood star Jack Nicholson, composer Sir Tim Rice and British actor Robbie Coltrane.
The highest price to date was for a painting called Embracing, which fetched £98,000 at auction in Edinburgh last month.
Admitting he was not a fan of the type of works that win the Turner Prize each year, the self-taught painter, known for his erotically charged figurative scenes, added: 'I personally like to see craftsmanship, I like to look at paintings where somebody has worked very hard to learn how to do it and you can feel the pain. I'm not dismissive about contemporary art because we all have our own priorities. There is room for everybody.'
Supporters of Vettriano claim that as a traditional artist he is the victim of snobbery which favours 'cutting edge' contemporary art such as Damien Hirst's shark in formaldehyde, Tracey Emin's unmade bed and Grayson Perry's pots. As Vettriano's popularity continues to grow, reflected in his OBE, pressure is growing on the galleries.
Bob Bee, who has directed and produced Jack Vettriano: The People's Painter for Melvyn Bragg's The South Bank Show, to be broadcast on ITV1 on 21 March, said: 'We wanted to ask Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate, the criteria by which acquisitions are selected and whether he would consider buying a Vettriano. We were told he was busy curating his next exhibition.
'We wanted to ask Sir Timothy Clifford, director of the National Galleries of Scotland, why none of the Scottish galleries will show Scot land and the UK's favourite painter. We were told he was travelling in India and couldn't comment.
'If they'd come back and said we don't think he's a good enough artist, that would be fine, but there's a reluctance to address the issue on any level.'
Sir Terence Conran, who commissioned Vettriano to paint a series of oils now hanging in his Bluebird restaurant complex in London, joined the criticism: 'They turn their backs on him because his work has been reproduced on posters, which I think is incredibly elitist and snobbish. In Scotland the art establishment has sneered at him because he is self-taught.
'He's not a Young British Artist, he's doing something different, but just as the American artist Edward Hopper is revered, I hope some of that could rub off on Vettriano.'
Tom Hewlett, the artist's dealer for the past decade, said: 'It's never very convincing if you're not prepared to stand there and justify your stance on something. It's more convincing if you're willing to explain your reasons.
'But I'm not surprised because I think experience has told people like Timothy Clifford that the more they try to slag off Vettriano and his work the more the reaction grows stronger in the opposite direction.
'I can see why Nicholas Serota hasn't got anything to say because he has his own agenda. But if there was a Jack Vettriano show at the Tate, I can only think it would be very well attended, and by a lot of people who don't normally visit the Tate, which would surely be a good thing.'
Hewlett, owner of the Portland Gallery in London, which will exhibit Vettriano's latest works in June, said: 'Art which is accessible to the masses is often regarded as not worthy of inclusion when the people choosing for galleries prefer old masters or cutting-edge contemporary. Should a public gallery give the public what they want or what the directors want to give them?
'There are two art worlds: the popular one which anyone can understand, and the academic one controlled by relatively few people. The latter has a very different approach and tries to be sensational for the sake of it.
'People understand less an unmade bed or a pickled pig's head. There are no emperor's new clothes around Vettriano's paintings. We get 20 to 30 emails a day from literally every corner of the world inquiring about his work.'
Simon Matthews, chief executive of Easyart.com, the online shop, said: 'He is a phenomenon. For posters he is our bestselling artist by far in the past year, beating the Dalis, the Monets and the Warhols.
'In the past three months he sold 27 per cent more than Dali in second place. His work isn't cutting- edge, it's nice and comfortable and slightly saucy, a reminder of times gone by and just what the English like.'
But Professor Duncan Macmillan of Edinburgh University, who in his definitive history of Scottish painting afforded Vettriano one paragraph, insisted: 'The analogy in fiction would be Jilly Cooper, Mills & Boon or Harry Potter - should J. K. Rowling win the Booker Prize because she's read by a lot of people? It's interesting as a phenomenon: he's obviously struck a popular note, but it cannot be translated directly into enduring quality.'
A spokesman for the Tate said: 'Tate collects British art of national importance, and can't purchase works by every British artist. The curators judge which artists and works are of national importance and we don't discuss artists not included in the collection.'
Richard Calvocoressi, the director of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, said via email: 'We recognise that Jack Vettriano is popular with the public but so are numerous artists not represented in our collections.'
Artist Jack Vettriano's work may drop in value after auction house snub Apr 26 2010 By Jack Mathieson in Daily Record
MILLIONAIRE artist Jack Vettriano's controversial work could plummet in value after an auction snub last week.
Seven out of 10 of the former Fife miner's paintings which went under the hammer in London failed to sell.
And experts say it is now time to re-assess the value of his output - which has often been slated by critics but won celebrity fans such as Jack Nicholson, Robbie Coltrane and Sir Alex Ferguson.
One dealer said: "Some people were buying Vettrianos as an investment for almost any price a few years ago and maybe that's not the case at the moment."
Nearly £3million worth of art was snapped up at Sotheby's spring auction of Scottish pictures in London last Thursday.
But most of Vettriano's work failed to reach relatively modest estimated values.
The biggest shock was the failure to find a buyer for Study For Heaven Or Hell - The Sweetest Choice, which had an auctioneer's estimate of £20,000-£30,000.
Michael Grist, the auction house's head of Scottish pictures, said: "Prices for Vettriano peaked several years ago and the market for the artist at auction has since levelled off."
In 2004, auction house Lyon & Turnbull sold £1million of Vettriano works in one sale.
But director Nick Curnow said: "The prices rose so fast and there weren't enough buyers who were prepared to pay the top money. When that happens, prices inevitably come down."
Vettriano left school at 16 but took up painting after a girlfriend gave him a box of watercolours for his 21st birthday.
Five years ago, the Record revealed many of his works, including Europe's best-selling print, The Singing Butler, made use of images from an artists'
29 June 2011 BBC News
Jack Vettriano show in Bristol opens after controversy An art exhibition which prompted the resignation of the president of the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol has opened.
Simon Quadrat quit this month in protest at the way he said the artistic direction of the academy was going.
The exhibition by Jack Vettriano includes one of his most famous paintings - The Singing Butler.
Staff at the gallery said the exhibition was part of a move aimed at attracting wider audiences.
The Scottish artist, whose work was once shunned by the National Galleries of Scotland, has previously been forced to defend his use of illustrator's guides to produce some of his works.
One of his paintings will go on display at one of those galleries for the first time this autumn.
Mr Vettriano, who began painting after receiving a set of water colours for his 21st birthday, said of his work: "The whole debate between the public loving it and critics hating it made it controversial and I've benefited from that.
"I don't mind it at all I've always wanted to be a bit of a maverick."
When he announced his resignation, Mr Quadrat said it would be "foolish" to believe the only way of bringing visitors in was to put populist art on.
But academy director Trystan Hawkins said someone could come to see a popular artist's work and then look at other exhibits.
He said Mr Quadrat's departure was more to do with a lack of consultation over the type of exhibitions being shown rather than Mr Vettriano's exhibition itself.
"My job is to get more people into the building," he said.
"I talked to Joe Public on the street about what they'd like to see and Jack was top of the list."
The RWA is one of five Royal Academies of Art in the UK.
Pick of the picture books: Jack Vettriano: Studio Life The Independent
Friday, 21 March 2008
A remarkably honest portrait of one of Fife's more popular sons (his prints outsell Van Gogh's, Dali's and anything by his contemporary, Gordon Brown). Jack Vettriano: Studio Life (Pavilion, £25) sees the artist at home, at work and addressing his critics. "I think to have been able to create an iconic image from a £17 manual deserves a wee bit more than scorn," he says of the recent scandal over his "copying" figures from an art manual. In his introduction, friend, fan and co-Fifer Ian Rankin admires the narrative value of Vettriano's paintings, and here we see the story of their creation from beginning to end. It starts with hiring and photographing a model (right). "I don't hide from the fact that I only paint a woman if I find her attractive," he admits, obviously.