Famous Langtonians: Jack Vettriano

Ah, the (very) occasional Famous Langtonians series returns. Today, Jack Vettriano.

At the top of Kirkcaldy High Street there is a frame shop. For such a long time, probably years, whenever I looked into the window there would be a frame there with a picture in it. It might even still be there. That there is a frame in the window of a frame shop isn’t surprising.

Then I heard of Jack Vettriano, or Jack Hoggan to be precise (Vettriano is his mother’s maiden name; presumably having an exotic name like Vettriano makes it easier for medicore artists to be noticed). I can’t even remember what the first Vettriano painting I saw was. It might have been The Singing Butler, or one of the other ones that actually look quite similar anyway.

Anyway, I saw this picture on the television and I thought, “that looks really familiar; where do I know that picture from?” Then it dawned on me. It is the picture that’s in the window of the frame shop. I always thought that was just some kind of demonstration picture, to sort of say, “look, this is what you do with a frame — you put a picture in it. But maybe put your own one in.” Like those photograph frames that already come with a generic smiling blonde 4-year-old girl.

I’m not big on art really. But of course I know what I like. And I don’t like Jack Vettriano’s paintings. I always found The Singing Butler weird. I mean, why is the guy holding the umbrella like that. Have you ever seen anybody hold an umbrella like that? And what’s meant to be so “erotic” about his paintings? They’re about as erotic as chicken soup. They look kind of flat and boring. As I said, like a generic demonstration picture or something. Like, oooh, maybe something from a how-to-draw book

Like twee chart music, though, people like the easy-going stuff, and Vettriano is one of the world’s most commercially successful painters. This is despite being snubbed by every art gallery in the land, apart from that one that’s next to the train station in Kirkcaldy (which is, incidentally, meant to be one of Michael Portillo’s favourite galleries!).

Vettriano, and others, said that this the fact that major galleries ignored him was just snobbery; that the fancy-pants galleries wouldn’t display Vettriano’s paintings because he came from a working class background, or because he was self-taught, or because you can buy the same bloody painting on a poster for a fiver from the art shop down the road. Despite his huffing and puffing he told The Guardian last year:

I would rather my paintings sold to ordinary people, rather than being stacked in a store house at the National Gallery.

Because so many ordinary people can buy a painting for six-figure sums, of course.

I made a mistake going to university. I’ll just get the tracing paper out and say I’ve “created a new narrative” then flog it for millions. Quids in!

[The Singing Butler] was one of these paintings I ought not to have been able to do. It was like I cheated. It was 1992, I was hardly in the back door of the art world when I did it.


  1. jack vettriano must be one of scotland’s greatest talents, the fact his paintings now sell for 6 figure sums is not the fault of the artist. would you turn down a vast amount of money for your product. if the buyers are willing to spend then let them. i would love to own one i think he is fantastic.

  2. I saw that painting, was going for about £1500….it was a study painting as I remember , not the real thing….. Rosslyn fine arts was the shop that was punting it, if I recall around , 1993 or so..

    He doesnt set the prices , Buyers do!

  3. That’s the trouble with “art”. What is it and why? Is Rolf Harris better than Vettriano? Is Van Gogh better than Monet? Is Hurst better than Emin? The answer to the question, first and foremost is “do I like it”. The second question must be” If somebody gave it to me, would I like it enough to stick it on my wall”. Finally, the last question is ” would I spend £1, £100, £100000 to put it on my wall ? ( Forget the people who invest in art, they don’t necessarily care what it looks like, they just want to make money…Lloyd Webber spent £18m on a Picasso and sold it 9yrs later for a £10m profit. ) Vettriano has hit a niche market with a style that is irrefutably his, he is unmistakable and cannot change because it will hit him and the Portland Gallery hard in the pocket. Be honest, 99% of us would do exactly the same. The impressionist were all to a man slagged off by the establishment at the time ( we all know the story of Vincents one, maybe two sales in his lifetime). Monet went years not making a penny. Carry on Jack, he who laughs last laughs loudest ( and longest ). And he’s laughing allright, all the way to the bank. As a footnote, I’m an artist, and do copies of all the greats, Sisley, Monet etc. I also enjoy and sell my Vettriano pieces and believe that yes, Jack can paint. It’s not everyones cup of tea, but I’ll tell you what, it’s a darn sight better than Ms. Emin, that’s for sure!!! Dave Parke’s the name and reproductions my game!

  4. Whether it’s popular with the public or not doesn’t matter. You joked that you should get the tracing paper out, create a piece and try selling it for lots of cash.

    Tracey Emin can do this in a flash. Her bloody tent with all her lovers’ names in, or that unmade bed with a couple of knickers thrown about is bloody off the scale when it comes to its value in ££££££. How long did it take for her make a messy bed?

    Vettriano however, shows some time and craftmanship in his work. I’m an artist and while i’m not obsessed with his work, a good deal of effort and skill is clear. Let’s praise him for that. I’d rather spend time trying to like Vettriano’s work than Emin’s.

  5. It seems to me that you are making comment about something you really don’t know much about. I am currently finishing my dissertation, a lot of which involved researching Jack and others. He freely admits to using a “How to Draw” book and his painting “The Singing Butler” is the most profitable painting print in the UK. The National Galleries and others are well known for being “A Club” and the only reason they won’t let him display is because he isn’t formally trained. They do this to several people, not just Jack and they are just as talented as him if not more so. Ask yourself this. If Art is about perception and opinions are different, then the majority must rule. The majority of the public love Jack’s work and are willing to pay big money for his works. This is for one of two reasons. 1. They love his work and feel that it is value for money, or 2. They think it will be a good investment, be this finacially or status amongst their peers. Just because some Gallerist or Critic says other wise doesn’t make it true. Critics loved Damien Hirst’s work when it first came out, however the general public had the opposite view, the majority, yet he was still deemed Britain’s best contemporary artist when the idea for putting a shark in formaldahyde in a glass tank was thought of by his teacher when he was studying. The most recent diamond encrusted Skull has only £13,000,000 worth of parts however it had a £50,000,000 price tag and was constructed entirly by technicians. At least Jack puts some time and effort into his work. I’m not saying that Damian is wrong but if you are questioning the talent and effort put in versus the cash there are others you should point your finger at first…….. But I’d do some research first before doing it next time.

  6. If the majority of the public like Jack Vettriano, good for them. I am sure they’re happy.

    I disagree when you say “the majority must rule”. That is quite a sinister statement. Have you ever heard of the tyranny of the majority? No-one must rule. There is surely space for multiple viewpoints. In fact, those who do not pander to the majority viewpoint must be applauded — it is such a rare thing.

  7. I bought yesterday two posters of Vettriano, one is the Picnic Beach Party. I’ve read a lot aorund about him, and critics definitely don’t like him. Most of them don’t say that he cannot paint or draw (that is, frankly, rather insincere at best: he’s not Picasso maybe but draw he can, and with his own unmistakable style). They do say, though, that he is BLAND, like a bloodless Hopper, like a “rich tea biscuit”, lighweight, stuff apt for posters and at the most for advertising. Well – I would agree that visive art, like good poetry, needs to say something more than what catches immediately the eye. But personally I find the Singing Butler sinister, to say the least. Two happy people dance with a maid and a butler hopping around them with umbrellas, perhaps trying to shield them, perhaps looking on something they’re not going to have. Are the guys on the beach in “Picnic” really so happy? Is Renoir “lightweight” when he paints two happy kids playing on a piano? is the “Moulin de la Galette” the happy lighweight depiction of a open air ballroom or does it hints at the ultimate emptiness of life? And don’t get me started on Toulouse Lautrec or Degas (both of which I dearly love). And cannot Vermeer seem lighweight stuff, sunny depiction of orderly life?