The Singing Butler by Jack Vettriano is one such image which is now one of the most famous paintings of the last decade.
Few would not recognise the elegant sweep of limbs and the romantic theme of lovers dancing the night away in each other’s arms and this picture more than any other contemporary painting has captured the hearts and imagination of the public.
Jack Vettriano contemplates his 1992 painting The Singing Butler at the Aberdeen Art Gallery, in Scotland
It is reported that in sales of postcards and prints of his work, Vettriano outsells every other artist, including Monet!
The Singing Butler is his most popular painting and it is perhaps plausible to suggest that this picture is among the most popular paintings in the Britain.
Vettriano’s work is resonant of the golden age of cinema, of jazz music and the nostalgia of the 1950s. His figures are the epitome of Hollywood glamour, the Goddesses of celluloid and the sex symbols of Rock and Roll.
Although he refutes suggestion that he is a connoisseur of old movies, the romantic atmosphere of his paintings is no less powerful than the best of cinema.
His suave gentlemen in top hats and Panamas resemble the likes of Clark Gable or Frank Sinatra, whilst his long-legged ladies have the chic grace and sex appeal of Joan Crawford or Jane Russell, sweeping through his canvases like the most proficient of ball-room dancers. Vettriano's work has been compared to that of the American Edward Hoppner and like Hopper, his paintings suggest a narrative like a snapshot taken from a film.
Thus in The Singing Butler the spectator is left to imagine what circumstances have lead these decadent lovers and their attendants to dance in the wet sand. Formality and restraint are flung to the wind as the dancers whirl, barefoot or in expensive leather shoes whilst the first drops of an approaching storm begin to trouble the butler and maid.
The painting is one of enigma and suggestion, the faces are either turned away, obscured or blurred suggesting that they are not specific identities but figures that we can all impose our own selves into. The song of the eponymous butler is not hinted at, although we can assume that it is a romantic.
A parallel can also be found with Vettriano and the work of the Hungarian photographer Brasaiï who also explored the powerful sexual and romantic ambiguities of figure groups in his elegant images of Parisian life.
There is also a suggestion of the work of the Nineteenth Century artist Eugene Boudin in the expansive beaches and elegant dressed, but wind-swept figures.
Jack Vettriano | The singing butler - A retrospective sketch
Jack Vettriano | Study for The Singing Butler
As has been noted 'Life indoors is a peepshow played out by characters caught up in some shadowy limbo. Or out in an infinity of open space, small dramas tease and unravel. Passion, desire, threat, seduction and betrayal stalk boundaries between virtue and vice.
There is an adoration of women and an indulgence of men, an acknowledgement of weakness and corruption, but neither censure or approval. The ringmaster musters his cast, cracks his whip, and ritual dances begin'. (W Gordon Smith, Fallen Angels; Paintings by Jack Vettriano, 1994, pg. 6)
In 1991, The Singing Butler was exhibited at the Solstice Gallery in Edinburgh during the Edinburgh Festival. This was only three years after Vettriano had exhibited his first pictures at the Royal Scottish Academy. The exhibition was a great success and led in 1992 to the artist's first solo exhibition, which was a sell-out. Whilst other contemporary artists have hit the headlines for their controversial subject matter or methods of working,
The Singing Butler has retained its appeal as an image which defies the movement towards ugliness. His success has been gradual and although the art critics have shown a reticence to accept his work, his popularity among the public and collectors has experienced an enormous rise in the last few years.
It is his romantic approach to art that has made Vettriano one of the most collectible of artists and certainly Scotland's favourite modern painter.
Last year the small oil study for The Singing Butler was sold by Sotheby’s at Gleneagles Hotel. | © Sotheby’s
E 'l'approccio romantico all'arte che ha reso Jack Vettriano, uno degli artisti più collezionati e di certo il pittore moderno più preferito della Scozia.
"Il maggiordomo cantante", venduto all'asta di Sotheby's il 21 aprile 2004 per £744, 800 sterline, è largo 70 centimetri e c’è una coppia in abiti da sera che balla leggiadramente su una battigia sotto un cielo fosco e nuvoloso, protetta da una cameriera e un maggiordomo che reggono due ombrelli sulle loro teste.
Il maggiordomo, un po’ ingobbito, misteriosamente, e ha il volto nascosto, come quelli degli altri personaggi, canta “Fly me to the moon”.
Jack Vettriano è il pittore vivente più venduto e riprodotto al mondo. Si calcola che siano stati venduti tre milioni di poster e stampe dei suoi quadri.
Il suo successo è planetario e la sua popolarità ha superato rapidamente la sua notorietà: le sue opere stavano nelle case di mezzo mondo ma pochissimi conoscevano il suo nome. Da anni con i suoi quadri sono state stampate centinaia di migliaia di cartoline, poster, oggetti, persino ombrelli.
Anche in Italia lo hanno usato per le copertine dei loro libri Adelphi, Sellerio e Rizzoli, e si vendono anche qui libri, calendari e poster.