The Art of Jack Vettriano ( Scottish painter, born 1951 ) | The Singing Butler, 1992.

The Art of Jack Vettriano ( Scottish painter, born 1951 ) – The Singing Butler, 1992.

The Singing Butler is an oil-on-canvas painting made by Scottish artist Jack Vettriano in 1992. It sold at auction in 2004 for £744,800, which was the record at the time for any Scottish painting, and for any painting ever sold in Scotland. Reproductions of The Singing Butler make it the best-selling art print in the UK.

The painting measures 28 inches (710 mm) by 36 inches (910 mm). It depicts a couple dancing on the damp sand of a beach on the coast of Fife, with grey skies above a low horizon. To the left and right, a maid and a man hold up umbrellas against the weather. The dancers wear evening dress: a dinner jacket and a red ball gown; the woman also wears long red gloves but appears to have bare feet. The butler is also formally dressed, while the maid wears a white apron and clutches her hat.

As a contemporary cultural icon, The Singing Butler has been compared to Grant Wood’s American Gothic. Vettriano has described the painting as an “uplifting fantasy” and chose the subject after being complimented on his paintings of beaches. He added the servants to balance the composition.

His work has been widely criticised by art critics, but is popular with the public. The Singing Butler has been criticised for its uneven finishing, inconsistent lighting and treatment of wind, and for the odd position of the dancers. The dancers’ pose is reversed from a normal closed dance hold. Usually, with the man leading, his left hand would hold the woman’s right hand, and he would place his right hand on or below the woman’s left shoulder blade, while she places her left hand on his right arm, just below the shoulder.

The original painting was sold at auction in August 2003 for £90,000, and then sold to a private collector in April 2004 for £744,800, a Scottish record at that time. After the painting was sold, it was reported that Vettriano had used an artists’ reference manual, The Illustrator’s Figure Reference Manual, as a basis for the figures (the female figure in the reference work is actress Orla Brady). Vettriano retorts that Francis Bacon had the same book in his studio, and that Picasso said that some artists borrowed but he stole.

Another version of the painting, Dancer in Emerald, omits the maid, while the female dancer wears a green dress. Both were included in Vettriano’s first London exhibition, God’s Children, at the Mall Galleries in October 1992.

The original painting of The Singing Butler was displayed at Aberdeen Art Gallery in February 2012, the first public exhibition for 20 years.

Courtesy Jack Vettriano

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