Jack Vettriano grew up in the industrial seaside town of Methil, Fife. He grew up in poverty with his mother and father and older brother, in a spartan miner’s cottage, sharing a bed with his brother and wearing hand-me-down clothes. From the age of 10, his father sent him out delivering papers and milk, cleaning windows, picking potatoes and any job that would earn money. His father took half his earnings.
Vettriano left school at 16 and later became an apprentice mining engineer. For a short time in the late 1960s he had a summer job as a bingo caller at the Beachcomber Amusements on Leven Promenade. Vettriano took up painting as a hobby in the 1970s, when a girlfriend bought him a set of watercolours for his 21st birthday. His earliest paintings, under his birth name “Jack Hoggan”, were copies or pastiches of impressionist paintings; his first painting was a copy of Monet’s Poppy Fields. Much of his influence came from studying paintings at the Kirkcaldy Museum and Art Gallery. In 1984, Vettriano first submitted his work to the Shell-sponsored art exhibition in the museum.
In 1987, at 36, Vettriano’s wife Gail left him. He left his job in educational research, and moved to Edinburgh. There he adopted his mother’s maiden name, gave away his suits to a neighbour and started dressing as an Edwardian dandy. He applied to study Fine Art at the University of Edinburgh, but his portfolio was rejected.
In 1989, Vettriano submitted two canvases for the Royal Scottish Academy annual show. Both paintings sold on the first day and Vettriano was approached by several galleries. Further exhibitions followed in Edinburgh, London, Hong Kong and Johannesburg. In November 1999, Vettriano’s work was shown for the first time in New York, when 21 paintings were displayed at The International 20th Century Arts Fair at The Armory. More than 40 collectors from the UK flew out for the event and all 20 paintings were sold on the opening night.
In 1996, Sir Terence Conran commissioned Vettriano to create a series of paintings for his new Bluebird Gastrodome in London. The seven paintings inspired by the life of Sir Malcolm Campbell hung there for ten years. Heartbreak Publishing, Vettriano’s own publishing company, produced a boxed set featuring signed, limited edition prints of all seven paintings to mark the 75th anniversary of Sir Malcolm Campbell’s final World Land Speed Record. The Bluebird paintings were auctioned at Sotheby’s on 30 August 2007 and made more than £1m. The most expensive was Bluebird at Bonneville, bought for £468,000 at the auction, held at the Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire.
His easel paintings cost between £48,000 and £195,000 new. According to The Guardian, he earns £500,000 a year in print royalties. Vettriano’s 1992 painting, The Singing Butler has been the best selling image in Britain. On 21 April 2004, the original canvas of The Singing Butler sold at auction for £744,500. It had been rejected in 1992 by the Royal Academy summer exhibition.
Vettriano has studios in Scotland and London. He was represented by the Portland Gallery, London from 1993 to 2007 and counts Jack Nicholson, Sir Alex Ferguson, Sir Tim Rice and Robbie Coltrane amongst his collectors. To date, five books have been published about Jack Vettriano, the most recent of which is entitled ‘Studio Life’ and was published in March 2008. In February 2009, Vettriano launched Heartbreak Publishing and his own London gallery, also called Heartbreak, which exclusively represents him. and also promotes younger artists.
In March 2010, Days Of Wine And Roses was opened by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond at the Kirkcaldy Museum. The exhibition then transferred to Vettriano’s gallery in London.
On 24 March 2010, Sir Jackie Stewart presented Vettriano with the Great Scot of the Year Award. The award ceremony was held at the Boisdale Club in London. The award led MSP Ted Brocklebank to file a Motion in Parliament calling for Vettriano’s contribution to Scottish culture to be recognised.
In April 2010 seven out of ten paintings by Vettriano failed to sell at Sotheby’s spring auction of Scottish pictures. Those that sold did so for half their previous prices. Art experts suggested the value of Vettriano’s works needed reassessing.
In February 2011 it was announced that Vettriano’s self-portrait The Weight would be displayed at the re-opened Scottish National Portrait Gallery from November 2011, the first time he had exhibited at a national gallery.
Deputy director Nicola Kalinsky said Vettriano was “a figure we have wanted on our wall for a while for obvious reasons”. First Minister, Alex Salmond said of Vettriano “He is a wonderful artist of considerable talent and achievement and this is a magnificent tribute to the special place he holds in the hearts of people in Scotland.”
In May 2011, ‘The Ballroom Spy’ exhibition opened at Vettriano’s gallery Heartbreak – a new exhibition by Vettriano in collaboration with the photographer, Jeanette Jones. In July 2011, the exhibition transferred to the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol, which was viewed as a controversial choice by many.
In January 2012, menswear brand, Stefano Ricci, launched its Spring Summer 2012 collection with a campaign inspired by the work of Jack Vettriano. The SS 2012 catalogue, entitled ‘Stefano Ricci – a tribute to Vettriano’, featured images by Vettriano and photographic re-interpretations shot by Fredi Marcarini featuring clothes and accessories from the Ricci 2012 collection. A short film about the 2012 Vettriano campaign commemorated the collaboration.
In February 2012, Vettriano’s most famous painting, The Singing Butler went on display at the Aberdeen Art Gallery as part of an exhibition entitled, ‘From Van Gogh to Vettriano’.
In September 2013, a major retrospective of Vettriano’s work opened at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. ‘Jack Vettriano: A Retrospective’ ran until 23 February 2014 and featured over 100 works.