A ‘key work’ by acclaimed Scots artist John Bellany is no longer in private ownership and will go on display to the public.
After remaining privately owned for some 55 years, one of the earliest and most significant paintings by the internationally acclaimed Bellany will go on permanent public display as part of the Scottish Maritime Museum’s new national art collection, it was announced today.
Helen Bellany, the artist’s partner and muse, unveiled The Boat Builders at the painting’s new home at the Scottish Maritime Museum on the Harbourside in Irvine calling it ‘one of the key works of his career’ and a symbol of their life-long journey together.
The Scottish Maritime Museum acquired, The Boat Builders by John Bellany (1942-2013) with £95,000 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF), £90,000 from the Art Fund and £15,000 from the National Fund for Acquisitions.
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 now, in the ownership of John Bellany and, more lately, the Estate of John Bellany.
The painting was most recently displayed in the National Galleries of Scotland 2012 John Bellany Retrospective.
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.
Working prolifically to re-establish a native, figurative art, he drew on his life growing up in a family of fishermen and boatbuilders in Port Seton, near Edinburgh, and the sea was a familiar subject of his work.
Bellany painted The Boat Builders in 1962 whilst attending Edinburgh College of Art, where he met Helen, an artist in her own right.
Commanding over 3 metres by 5 metres, the huge oil on board painting captures construction of a seine netter inscribed with the name ‘Good Hope’ and the words ‘BELLANY’ at the stern.
Unveiling the painting and recalling stories from her new memoir The Restless Wave as part of Tidelines Book Festival, Helen described the moment when a ‘trembling’ Bellany first showed her the painting.
Only a few weeks into their romance, which was to see them marry twice and bear three children together, they had already made a pact to spend the rest of their lives together. The Boat Builders reflected both the sea voyages of Bellany’s ancestors and the start of their own life-long journey taking on the world together.
The Boat Builders will go on show as part of the Scottish Maritime Museum’s current Maritime Perspectives : Collecting Art of a Seafaring Nation exhibition.
The exhibition is the first full showing of the Museum’s new national art collection which features works by other nationally and internationally renowned artists such as FCB Cadell, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Muirhead Bone and Kate Downie.
After the exhibition closes on Sunday 21 October, The Boat Builders will remain on view until the end of March. It will then undergo conservation work before returning to permanent display.
Unveiling The Boat Builders, David Mann, director of the Scottish Maritime Museum, said: ‘Since 2015 when we embarked on our ambitious, three year art acquisition project, SMMart: Enriching the Imagery of Scotland’s Maritime Heritage, it has been our fervent hope to collect a significant work by internationally acclaimed artist John Bellany as the jewel in the crown of our new national art collection.
‘We are therefore absolutely thrilled to welcome The Boat Builders to a new home on public display at the Scottish Maritime Museum. As well as bringing international significance to the art collection, this wonderful painting enriches the national maritime heritage collection, which includes some of the country’s most beautiful and most historic vessels, and will bring, I am sure, a lot of enjoyment to many, many visitors.
‘Also importantly, The Boat Builders stands as a very fitting tribute to all shipbuilders, boat builders and maritime industrial workers who made Scotland a great maritime and industrial nation right through to the talented young trainees at our Scottish Boat Building School here at the Museum.
‘We are very grateful to the National Heritage Memorial Fund for supporting the acquisition of The Boat Builders and to the Heritage Lottery Fund, Art Fund and National Fund for Acquisitions for both this highly significant purchase and the creation of our stunning and nationally important collection as a whole.’
Helen Bellany added: ‘The Boat Builders is one of John’s most important works of art. It was completed during his third year at Edinburgh College of Art when he was twenty one years of age.
‘It is astonishing to think that this truly remarkable painting is a student work, ambitious not only in its scale and composition but also a fully realised and accomplished vision of the world he was born into and which remained at the core of his life’s work.
‘It is one of the key works of his career. One that he termed “an absolute beezer. John would have been well pleased, if he had known, that The Good Hope had finally tied up in the sheltering harbour of the great Scottish Maritime Museum in Irvine. The perfect home.’
Fiona Greer, curator of art at the Scottish Maritime Museum, said: ‘Bellany and his close friend Alexander (Sandy) Moffat were inspired by social realism and the desire to present a modern Scotland whilst embracing the nation’s heritage. The Boat Builders is an exciting and important example.
‘The style of Bellany’s work went on to change dramatically over his lifetime as can be seen to some degree comparing The Boat Builders with a smaller work also acquired for our collection, The Dawn Pearl in Port Seton Harbour (2006).
‘We are excited to be able to display The Boat Builders here at the Museum alongside The Dawn Pearl and engage with our visitors around Bellany’s evolving style as well as the large scale changes in the style of, and attitudes towards, Scottish art during the sixties.’
The Scottish Maritime Museum’s new art collection was created to enrich and enhance the nationally recognised collection of maritime heritage.
The collection features over 80 artworks capturing Scotland’s coastline in all its grit and glory.
Maritime Perspectives: Collecting Art of a Seafaring Nation runs at the Scottish Maritime Museum on the Harbourside in Irvine, Ayrshire, until 21 October.
Entry to the exhibition is included within the standard Museum admission.