Is Jack Vettriano A Fine Artist? Scottish Retrospective Will Gauge

A major new retrospective exhibition of paintings by the highly commercial Scottish artist Jack Vettriano is opening at Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow on 21st September. The Museum is staging what will be the most comprehensive exhibition​ ever devoted to the artist. This will also be the first major Vettriano retrospective, bringing together his most popular images gathered for the first time from private collections around the world.

Born in Fife, Scotland in 1951, the self taught painter left school at sixteen to become a mining engineer. In his biography it is described that for his twenty-first birthday, a girlfriend gave him a set of watercolour paints and, from then on, he spent much of his spare time learning to paint. In 1989, he submitted two paintings to the Royal Scottish Academy’s annual exhibition; both were accepted and sold on the first day. The following year, an equally enthusiastic reaction greeted the three paintings, which he entered for the prestigious Summer Exhibition at London’s Royal Academy and from this series of events, his new life as an artist began.

Criticism of Vettriano’s work has been clearly divided by the serious and the popular press, in the UK. In very much the same way as L S Lowry, Vettriano has not been treated kindly or given an easy ride. According to The Daily Telegraph he has been described as the Jeffrey Archer of the art world, a purveyor of “badly conceived soft porn”,and a painter of “dim erotica”. According to Vanity Fair, critics say Jack Vettriano paints brainless erotica. Sandy Moffat, head of drawing and painting at Glasgow School of Art, said: “He can’t paint, he just colours in.” The Guardian’s art critic Jonathan Jones, described Vettriano’s paintings as a group as “brainless” and said Vettriano “is not even an artist.” Richard Calvocoressi, when director of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, said: “I’d be more than happy to say that we think him an indifferent painter and that he is very low down our list of priorities (whether or not we can afford his work, which at the moment we obviously can’t). His ‘popularity’ rests on cheap commercial reproductions of his paintings.”

In The Scotsman George Kerevan wrote “He suffers all the same criticisms of the early French Impressionists: mere wallpaper, too simplistic in execution and subject, too obviously erotic.” Alice Jones wrote in The Independent that Vettriano has been labelled a chauvinist whose “women are sexual objects, frequently half naked and vulnerable, always in stockings and stilettos.” Regarding the criticism, sculptor David Mach has said: “If he was a fashion designer Jack would be right up there. It’s all just art world snobbery. Anyway, who cares, he probably makes more money than Damien Hirst anyway.” In October 2005, after the original of The Singing Butler sold for £740,000, it came to light that Vettriano had used the artists’ reference manual The Illustrator’s Figure Manual to form his figures.

Over the last twenty years, interest in Vettriano’s work has grown consistently. There have been sell-out solo exhibitions in Edinburgh, London, Hong Kong and New York. It is now fitting that the artist’s biggest ever retrospective includes all of his most reproduced pieces,such as Dance me to the end of Love, The Billy Boys and The Singing Butler. “​It will not be without some considerable emotion that I will also be reunited with some of my own paintings; works that span 20 years of my career and many of which I have not seen in years.” Jack Vettriano stated in a recent radio interview. Lets see how the critics treat this one.

The exhibition runs from Saturday 21 September 2013 – Sunday 23 February 2014. Tickets are £5 adults and £3 concessions. Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum Argyle Street, Glasgow, G3 8AG