Art History Lab

The Nostalgic Journey: Jack Vettriano’s Artistic Evolution and Triumphs

Jack Vettriano’s Art Life

Jack Vettriano, a self-taught Scottish painter, is known for his nostalgic, film-noir aesthetic that captures the sophistication of the 1920s and 1930s. Throughout his life, he has drawn inspiration from Impressionist and Old Masters’ paintings, as well as Scottish painters, which has helped shape his distinct style.

This article will explore Jack Vettriano’s journey as an artist, from his humble beginnings in Methil, Scotland, to his turning point at the Royal Academy exhibition in 1988. Inspiration from Impressionists, Old Masters, and Scottish painters

As a young man, Jack Vettriano drew inspiration from the Impressionists’ work and the works of Old Masters such as Rembrandt and Vermeer, who were known for their use of light and shadow.

These painters would influence his unconventional path to becoming an artist. Unlike many artists, Vettriano did not attend art school.

Instead, he taught himself how to paint, using the techniques borrowed from his influences. Vettriano also drew inspiration from Scottish painters such as John Lavery and Sir Henry Raeburn, whose works showcased Scottish culture and history.

Vettriano’s Scottish roots played a significant role in his life and art, as exemplified in his paintings that often depicted iconic Scottish symbols such as kilts, highland castles, and old towns.

The Singing Butler

One of Vettriano’s most known and recognizable paintings,

The Singing Butler, depicts a man and a woman holding hands while walking along a beach, with two butlers holding umbrellas behind them. The painting, which was sold for a staggering 4.4 million in 2004, has become an iconic image of romantic love.

The Singing Butler features Vettriano’s signature style of using light and shadow, which adds to its romantic, movie-like quality. Vettriano’s love for cinema and his nostalgia for romantic movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood can be clearly seen in his works, including

The Singing Butler.

Birthday gift of watercolor set

Vettriano’s first step towards becoming an artist dates back to his twenty-first birthday, when his then-girlfriend gifted him a watercolor set. This set would turn out to be a serendipitous gift, as Vettriano would soon discover his innate talent for painting.

He started by painting portraits of family and friends, experimenting with colors and compositions. After he realized his passion for painting, he ventured into the world of art exhibitions, where he showcased his first painting, Days of Wine and Roses.

Birth in Methil, Scotland

Jack Vettriano was born in 1951 in Methil, a small town in Fife, Scotland. Despite his unassuming origins, Vettriano would go on to become one of the most famous artists of his time.

Growing up, Vettriano was exposed to art at an early age through his mother’s love of painting. Vettriano would later describe his mother as his biggest inspiration and supporter.

Renowned for film-noir aesthetic and realism

Vettriano’s artistic style is distinguished by its film-noir aesthetic, which he achieved through his use of lighting and shadow. In his paintings, Vettriano captures the cinematic and romantic atmosphere of the 1920s and 1930s, making it an instant hit with his viewers.

However, Vettriano’s art is also known for its undeniable realism. His paintings are often emotionally charged and highly detailed, with every element meticulously painted to look as realistic as possible.

Vettriano’s use of realism adds depth and character to his art.

Turning point at Royal Academy exhibition in 1988

In 1988, Vettriano submitted two paintings to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in London, hoping for a breakthrough. His submission received a cold response, with both paintings being rejected.

However, one of the jurors of the exhibition, Brian Sewell, would become an unlikely ally for Vettriano, praising his work and drawing attention to the artist’s potential. This attention turned Vettriano into a sought-after artist, with exhibitions of his work in galleries around the world.


Jack Vettriano’s life and art are a testament to the idea that one’s passion and talent can overcome any obstacle. Vettriano’s unassuming background did not stop him from becoming one of the most renowned painters of his time.

His journey as an artist is an inspiration to aspiring artists who feel discouraged by a lack of formal training. Vettriano’s story teaches us that passion, hard work, and determination can go a long way towards achieving our goals, whether they are in the arts or any other field.

The Early Life of Jack Vettriano

Jack Vettriano was born in Methil, a small town in Fife, Scotland, in 1951. The fifth of six children, Vettriano grew up in a small, cramped home with little lighting and no indoor plumbing.

Vettriano’s parents were both from Italy and had moved to Methil in search of work, where his father worked in the coal mines and his mother worked in a fish market. Vettriano’s upbringing was one of hardship and poverty.

The family struggled to make ends meet, and Vettriano’s early life was characterized by tough living conditions. Despite this, Vettriano had a creative streak from a young age and was interested in drawing and painting.

At age sixteen, Vettriano left school to become a mining engineer apprentice, following in his father’s footsteps. He worked in the mines for four years before being laid off in the late 1960s when the coal industry went through a period of decline.

After this, Vettriano held several odd jobs, including working as a bingo announcer and doing other work in the entertainment painting at age 21

It wasn’t until Vettriano was twenty-one that his passion for painting was ignited. His then-girlfriend bought him a watercolor set for his birthday, and he began experimenting with the medium.

Vettriano started painting portraits of his family and friends, and soon discovered that he had a natural talent for painting. He began attending local art classes, and when he was twenty-two, he submitted his first painting to the Royal Scottish Academy exhibition.

Despite receiving no formal training in art, Vettriano’s natural talent and dedication to his craft soon became apparent. He continued to paint and submit his works to various exhibitions, often being rejected.

However, this did not deter him, and he continued to work hard and perfect his art. Jack Vettriano’s Art Career

Submission of paintings to Royal Scottish Academy exhibition

Vettriano’s art career took off in 1989 when he submitted two paintings to the Royal Scottish Academy exhibition. Both paintings were accepted, and this marked a turning point in his career.

The paintings, “Slave to Love” and “Birds of a Feather,” garnered attention from art critics, as well as buyers, which led to Vettriano becoming a family name. Exhibitions held in London, Edinburgh, Johannesburg, and Hong Kong

Following his success at the Royal Scottish Academy exhibition, Vettriano’s work began to be exhibited in galleries across the UK and beyond.

In 1992, his first solo exhibition, “Born to Swing,” was held in London. The exhibition received critical acclaim, and it helped establish Vettriano as a rising star in the art world.

Subsequent exhibitions took place in Edinburgh, Johannesburg and Hong Kong, further cementing his reputation as a skilled artist and drawing the attention of collectors from around the world. Today, Vettriano’s works command high prices and are held in collections in some of the world’s most prestigious galleries.

Commissions and collaborations

As Vettriano’s career progressed, he began to receive commissions for his work. One of his most high-profile commissions was from the Scottish Opera, for whom he created a painting based on the opera, “Carmen.” The painting was used as a backdrop for the opera’s set design, and has since become an iconic image, associated with the production.

Vettriano also collaborated with other artists, including the Scottish painter, Peter Howson. Together, they created a series of paintings inspired by the life and work of the Scottish poet, Robert Burns.

The collaboration was a resounding success, with the paintings selling out quickly.


Jack Vettriano’s early life was one of hardship, but his passion for painting and determination to succeed helped him overcome the odds. His natural talent for painting and his dedication to his craft quickly became apparent, and he worked hard to perfect his art.

Vettriano’s success at the Royal Scottish Academy exhibition propelled him to fame, and his subsequent exhibitions and commissions helped cement his position as one of the UK’s most successful artists. His life is an inspiration to anyone who aspires to succeed in the arts or any other field.

The Style and Criticism of Jack Vettriano’s Paintings

Self-taught painter using opaque glazes and profound shadows

Jack Vettriano’s distinctive style is characterized by its use of opaque glazes and profound shadows. He is a self-taught painter who uses a technique known as “finger painting,” where he applies the paint with his fingers instead of using brushes.

Vettriano’s style gives his paintings a unique, almost film-noir quality, which has helped him stand out from other painters.

The use of opacity and shadows in his paintings, combined with his use of light, creates a sense of drama and depth that is reminiscent of the works of Old Masters.

Vettriano’s use of realism and elements of fantasy in his work is particularly intriguing, contributing to the distinctiveness of his paintings. Comparison to Sickert, Hopper, and Boudin

Vettriano’s paintings have often been compared to those of Walter Sickert, Edward Hopper, and Eugene Boudin, all of whom use light and shadow to create a sense of drama in their paintings.

This comparison attests to the mastery Vettriano has achieved in his technique. Sickert was a British painter who was renowned for his gritty, realistic depictions of everyday life.

Hopper, an American painter, was known for his use of light and shadow to evoke a sense of isolation and loneliness in his paintings. Boudin, a French painter, was renowned for his seascapes, which captured the beauty and majesty of the sea.

Vettriano’s paintings share elements of all these artists but still manage to remain distinctly his own. Criticism of his works as “witless eroticism”

Vettriano’s paintings have not been immune to criticism.

Some critics have called his work “witless eroticism,” with some suggesting that his paintings are little more than soft-core erotica. However, Vettriano has defended his paintings, pointing out that they are not intended to be erotic but are instead an exploration of human intimacy and connection in a way that is not explicitly sexual.

One of the criticisms levelled at Vettriano’s work is that it objectifies women. However, many of Vettriano’s paintings feature strong, independent women who are confident in their sexuality.

In several of his works, the women are fully clothed while the men are nude, a reversal of the stereotypical gender roles in art. Ultimately, Vettriano’s works are open to interpretation, and the criticisms levelled at them reflect more about the critics than the paintings themselves.

Jack Vettriano’s Personal Life

Residence in Kirkcaldy and Nice

Although Vettriano is known for his Italian heritage, he has spent much of his life in Scotland, living in Kirkcaldy. He has also spent time in Nice, France, where he found inspiration for some of his paintings.

Vettriano’s travels have influenced his art in various ways, from the use of color to the subjects he chooses to paint.

OBE recipient and connection to his artworks

In 2003, Vettriano was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for his contribution to the arts. This recognition was a significant milestone in Vettriano’s life and career, cementing his position as one of the UK’s most successful artists.

The connection between Vettriano’s personal life and his paintings has also been a point of interest. Many of his paintings, such as “Dance Me to the End of Love,” were inspired by his personal experiences and relationships.

The painting features Vettriano and his then-partner, and the use of color and light within the painting evokes a sense of romance and intimacy.

Indictment on drug and alcohol charges

In 1997, Vettriano was indicted for drug and alcohol charges, which had a significant impact on his personal life as well as his career. The charges were eventually dismissed, and Vettriano moved on from the incident, focusing on his art and furthering his career.

Vettriano’s personal life has been as intriguing as his paintings, with his experiences and travels influencing his work in various ways. His recognition as an OBE recipient acknowledges his contributions to the arts, helping to cement his place in the art world as a significant and influential artist.

Throughout this article, we have explored various aspects of Jack Vettriano’s life, art career, and personal experiences. From his humble beginnings in Methil, Scotland, to his introduction to painting at the age of 21, Vettriano’s journey as a self-taught painter is an inspiration to aspiring artists.

His unique style, characterized by the use of opaque glazes and profound shadows, has drawn comparisons to renowned artists such as Sickert, Hopper, and Boudin. Despite facing criticism for his works being labeled as “witless eroticism,” Vettriano remains true to his artistic vision, exploring human intimacy and connection.

His personal life, marked by residences in Kirkcaldy and Nice, an OBE recognition, and an indictment on drug and alcohol charges, adds depth to his story. The importance of Vettriano’s life and art lies in his ability to overcome obstacles, follow his passion, and create a distinctive artistic voice.

Vettriano’s journey serves as a reminder that self-expression and artistic exploration can lead to remarkable achievements, regardless of one’s background.

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