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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 April, 2004, 13:59 GMT 14:59 UK
Vettriano fetches record price
The Singing Butler by Jack Vettriano
The Singing Butler depicts a couple dancing on a windy beach
The most famous painting by Scottish artist Jack Vettriano has smashed all expectations, selling for 744,800 at auction.

The Singing Butler had been expected to fetch up to 200,000 at Sotheby's spring sale.

The most popular art print in the UK, the artwork sold for 90,000 when it was last auctioned in August.

It was one of 14 works by the Fife-born artist at the sale at Hopetoun House in West Lothian.

'Determined bidders'

Auctioneers were left stunned when it sold to a mystery phone bidder.

"It was very exciting, it fetched massively over what was expected, we're thrilled," said a Sotheby's spokeswoman.

"It came down to two telephone bidders in the end, both were very determined.

"It is the record for any Scottish painting and for any painting ever sold in Scotland."

The sale has more than smashed the previous record for a Vettriano - an oil painting called Embracing sold for 98,000 last December.

Distinctive paintings

Vettriano is acknowledged to be the UK's most popular artist.

His prints sell more than those by old masters such as Monet and Van Gogh, and his distinctive paintings are often reproduced on posters and postcards.

However, he has long felt snubbed by the arts establishment and Britain's leading art galleries have never displayed his work.

Jack Vettriano
Jack Vettriano received an OBE last November
Vettriano's agent, Tom Hewlett, said his client felt vindicated by the auction, in which another 13 of his paintings sold for between 30,000 and 175,000.

He added that Vettriano's reaction to the sale was "a combination of embarrassment and delight".

"He's a modest, rather humble bloke who 15 years ago was completely and utterly unheard of."

Hewlett, who runs the Portland Gallery in London, said Vettriano's paintings had been offered to British national art collections but had been rejected.

"We have offered them to the museums and all have been dismissed," he said.

"I don't think the establishment can now ignore what has been thrust upon them.

"The critics have started to realise that the more they voice off in a rather elitist way, the bigger repercussion from the public [will be].

"There is a huge public out there that like looking at an image and like relating to it.

"There's nothing for the critic to explain, so they're out of a job."

Art critic, David Lee, editor of The Jackdaw magazine, said although he did not admire Vettriano, national collections should recognise excellence "wherever it alights on the artistic spectrum".

If we ran our public libraries like we run our public galleries, everybody would complain
David Lee
Art critic

"Here we have a very famous artist, none of whose works is in a national, regional or municipal collection, because he's popular and therefore the toffs and elitists don't buy him for our public collections," he said.

"If you have got a very popular painter like Vettriano, we ought to have an example of him, just as we ought to have an example of Gilbert and George."

He said there was a conspiracy between curators and museum directors not to buy popular artists like Vettriano.

Self-taught painter

"If we ran our public libraries like we run our public galleries, only buying Ulysses, instead of buying Jilly Cooper as well, everybody would complain," he said.

Kirkcaldy-born Vettriano, 52, left school at 16 to become a mining engineer in the local coalfields.

He taught himself to paint in a Fife bed-sit after his girlfriend bought him a set of watercolour paints for his 21st birthday.

His work came to prominence in an exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy.

But his work has divided the critics and he does not currently feature in any of Scotland's national galleries.

Your comments

His work is elegant, timeless and classy
Leigh, Edinburgh
Good for Vettriano! I have many Vettriano products, but no originals, unfortunately. His work is elegant, timeless and classy. As for critics, well, they pick on J.K. Rowling, too. They're just jealous of both successes! Well done, Vettriano. We, the public, want more!
Leigh, Edinburgh

Good for Jack. I personally love his paintings, and have several of his prints on my walls. I enjoy looking at them; he enjoys painting them (and, presumably, selling them for three quarters of a million quid). Anyone who can be a "critic" of that needs to get their head out of the clouds.
Tom, Portsmouth

We are pleased that he has proved all his critics wrong. We love the picture.
Moira & Sam, Dundee, Scotland

Surely, the painting is worth whatever anyone is willing to pay for it?
Guy, Chertsey, England

The monetary value of art lies only in the amount someone will pay for it. Let's hope the new owner enjoys it!
Julian King, London

Art is there to be appreciated by all. It is up to the individual what he or she feels is the right price for a painting. I wouldn't cross the road for some paintings, but, I can actually spend hours in a gallery staring at one or two paintings. I like Vettriano's work, it has something that I appreciate. Couldn't say if I would pay that for a painting though, but when you are on under 20k a year, it's a wee bit hard to shell out that kind of cash. I'll stick to the museums then!
John MacLean, Glasgow

Yes, worth every penny to expose the hypocrisy and elitism in the UK art establishment who will applaud 'art' comprised of found objects like a heap of rocks, a smelly mattress or a glass of water on a shelf. The Singing Butler is unashamedly populist, has both instant and more profound emotional appeal, and knocks the crass work of the peevish darlings of the UK art establishment into a cocked hat.
Andy H, Bristol, UK

If you have the money, and love the painting, then cost is irrelevant. It is a case of I can have, so I will get. Unfortunately it then puts the paintings out of reach of collectors and admirers when this kind of purchase happens.
Naomi Rowles, Bracknell, Berkshire

The BBC's Razia Iqbal
"They are among the most reproduced images in the world"

Vettriano: The people's artist
19 Apr 04  |  Entertainment
In pictures: The art of Jack Vettriano
19 Apr 04  |  In Pictures
Artist Vettriano's work on sale
19 Apr 04  |  Entertainment
Vettriano sells for record price
11 Dec 03  |  Scotland
Vettriano receives award
27 Nov 03  |  Scotland

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