Iconic Scottish painting to go on display in Perth

An iconic painting by the acclaimed Scottish artist John Bellany is to go on display this winter as part of Perth Museum and Art Gallery’s latest ICONS exhibition.

ICONS II: John Bellany celebrates the life of one of the most prolific and acclaimed Scottish artists of his generation, John Bellany. The exhibition brings together works from the artist’s long career including The Kiss, The Bellany Family and Fishing Boat Poseidon in Harbour.

At the centre of the exhibition will be one of the best-known works of Bellany’s career, The Boat Builders.

Whilst Bellany’s works have been exhibited across the world and purchased by collectors including Sean Connery and David Bowie, The Boat Builders has rarely been seen in public remaining, until 2018, in the ownership of John Bellany and, more lately, the Estate of John Bellany.

The Scottish Maritime Museum will be loaning the painting to Perth Museum and Art Gallery after acquiring it in 2018 with support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF), the Art Fund and the National Fund for Acquisitions as part of an ongoing programme to enhance its collection with artworks of national significance.

One of the most influential Scottish painters since the war, Bellany sailed against the tide of realism and abstraction from the start of his career in the 1960s.

Bellany was born in the fishing village of Port Seton, into a family of fisherman and boat builders and steeped in Calvinism as a child, his art is profoundly religious in its intimation of morality and recognition of evil; facts reinforced in 1967 by a traumatic visit to the remains of the Buchenwald concentration camp. But Bellany’s life voyage has proved every bit as perilous as the sea voyages of his ancestors.

He studied at Edinburgh College of Art and at the Royal College of Art, London. His work of the 1960s and 1970s dealt with original sin, guilt, sex and death. His characteristic paintings are large compositions featuring his own personal symbolism, often derived from the sea and from religion, two elements that dominated his childhood.

The flawed nature of humanity was usually central to his paintings. Bellany became seriously ill in the 1980s and underwent a liver transplant operation in 1988, after which his work became more optimistic in mood.

John Bellany died at the family home in Essex on 28 August 2013

Bellany was well known for documenting the lives of the fishing communities of the east coast of Scotland. Throughout his career, he addressed the complexities of the human condition such as guilt, sex and death. Working prolifically to re-establish a native, figurative art, he drew on his life growing up in a family of fishermen and boat builders in Port Seton, and the sea was a familiar subject of his work.

Rhona Rodger, senior collections officer at Perth Museum and Art Gallery, said ‘This exhibition will be an exciting opportunity to view some of the earlier works by the internationally acclaimed Scottish artist, John Bellany, whose style is vivid, colourful and deeply representative of the community in which he grew up. Arriving in four panels which have to be reconstructed in the gallery, The Boat Builders is monumental in scale and boldly demonstrates the heroic nature of the industry.’

Matthew Bellhouse Moran, curator at the Scottish Maritime Museum said: ‘We are delighted to loan this impressive and important work to Perth Museum and Art Gallery.

‘Painted by Bellany while he was still a student and one of his earliest works in a public collection, his distinctive style is already clear in The Boat Builders. The work has rarely been displayed in the intervening 57 years, and the Scottish Maritime Museum sees this as a superb opportunity to share Scotland’s maritime heritage with a wider audience.’

Bellany painted The Boat Builders in 1962 whilst attending Edinburgh College of Art, where he met his wife Helen, and an established artist in her own right.

Standing over 3 metres by 5 metres, The Boat Builders captures the construction of a seine netter inscribed with the name ‘Good Hope’ and the words ‘BELLANY’ at the stern.

Through a dynamic programme of exhibitions, all labelled under the collective banner ‘ICONS’, Culture Perth and Kinross is questioning how individuals and artworks become ‘iconic’; what this means and how it affects their impact. This approach invites visitors to Perth Museum and Art Gallery to reconsider iconic works in a different context or to unpack the histories, ideas or traditions that created its iconic status. ICONS II: John Bellany is the second in this series of exhibitions.

ICONS II: John Bellany is open now. Entrance is free.