The Bluebird Collection
There can be few people unfamiliar with The Singing Butler by Jack Vettriano. This charming painting by a self-taught Scotsman has sold a staggering six million reproductions worldwide. It is the best-selling print in Europe—more popular than Monet’s Water Lillies or Van Gogh’s Sunflowers—and has helped to amass a fortune for a man who previously worked in a coal mine.
Born Jack Hoggan in 1951 and raised in the small coal mining town of Methil, on the east coast of Scotland, Jack left school at sixteen to become an apprentice mining engineer.
"I don't think my parents ever realized there were any other careers. I love them dearly but they lived in a limited world and their thoughts were limited. I don't think they ever thought any of their children could paint or even go on a foreign vacation. I think they brought me up the way they'd been brought up: to try and get through the system without going to prison. It was as simple as that."
For his twenty-first birthday, a girlfriend gave Jack a set of watercolor paints and, from then on, he spent much of his spare time teaching himself to paint. His breakthrough came seventeen years later in 1989, when he felt ready to show his work in public. Hoggan submitted two paintings to the Royal Scottish Academy's annual exhibition; both were accepted and sold on the first day!
With this success he moved to Edinburgh, changing his surname to Vettriano from his mother's maiden name. The following year, three paintings were accepted and sold at London's Royal Academy, and his new life as an artist took off.
In 1997, Sir Terence Conran commissioned seven paintings to decorate the walls of his Bluebird Club in King's Road, Chelsea. They depict different moments in the story of the Blue Bird land speed record cars driven by Sir Malcolm Campbell in the 1920s and ‘30s.
"I was thrilled when Sir Terence approached me with the project. The brief was pretty clear: 'I know you have to paint cars, but try to make them sexy'. I have always had an interest in classic cars and so the commission really appealed. I did a lot of research on the subject and spent six weeks in my studio producing the works; that's slow for me."
When the club was sold 10 years later, the art was auctioned. Bluebird at Bonneville sold at Sotheby's for £468,000 -- the equivalent of $1 million at the time. Aside from Andy Warhol, no other artist has ever achieved a higher price for an automotive artwork.
Over the past twenty years, interest in Vettriano's work has grown consistently. There have been sell-out solo exhibitions in Edinburgh, London, Hong Kong and New York.
2004 was an exceptional year: The Singing Butler sold at Sotheby's for £745,000 ($1,300,000)--the highest price ever at auction for a Scottish painting. He was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth II for Services to the Visual Arts, and was the subject of a documentary entitled 'Jack Vettriano: The People's Painter' on ITV’s The South Bank Show.
Needing to feel emotionally uncomfortable to create his edgy, atmospheric dramas, Vettriano often listens to Leonard Cohen’s requiems while he paints. Known for working tirelessly until a painting is completed, his art has been purchased by the likes of Jack Nicholson, Madonna, Sir Alex Ferguson, Sir Tim Rice and Robbie Coltrane.
“I'm just a storyteller - a film director who's got one shot, but it's a still. You yourself will start the story and finish it. I will just give you a section.”
Jack divides his time between homes in Fife, Scotland; London, England; and Nice, on the French Riviera.