Jack Vettriano's The Singing Butler - Analysis

Twenty years ago, a struggling actress attended a photoshoot with other models in a London Studio. The shoot was for reference pictures for The Illustrator's Figure Reference Manual, a collection to be used by artists who could not afford live models. She was paid £50 for which she had to pose in different outfits like an evening gown and a maid's uniform.

In 1992, Jack Hoggan, a self-taught artist and ex-mining engineer used the book's references to paint a watercolour of a dancing couple, accompanied by a butler and maid, on a wet beach.

In 2004, 'The Singing Butler' fetched £745,000 or roughly, when it was auctioned off to a private collector by Sotheby's. The painter, who had changed his name to Jack Vettriano found to his amazement, that his The Singing Butler was the best selling print in the UK. It still is. You can buy it as prints or on mugs or even as an embroidery pattern.

The lady in red, Orla Brady, who is famous as an actress, 'enjoyed' another spurt of fame when she was identified as the model in the painting. She is also the maid on the left.

There's another version of the painting called Dancer in Emerald in which Ola's dress is green.

My Take

I have more to comment on the sociological aspects of this piece of art than an artistic one. The painting portrays a couple of a bygone era of Edwardian England. Upperclass romance aided by the feudal lowerclass. The couple have chosen to dance on the beach, oblivious to the strong wind and the approaching storm.

The painting and the painter have suffered much criticism. The critics say that his works show the feudal system in a favourable light. We must remember two things: one, that it was the work of a miner who taught himself painting and worked his way to wealth, and two, the painting's title. Though the couple make the central figure, the butler takes the title.

Critics also say that he is a mediocre artist and has brought down the level of contemporary art. But that happens when something becomes very popular: Harry Potter, Mickey Mouse, Da Vinci code...

Something that can be enjoyed by a select group of the intelligentsia is considered Art while something which is popular with the masses is mediocre art. Well, I have something to tell those snobs, but there are ladies and gentlemen present here.

The Composition

Forgetting that this is not art and that I am not supposed to enjoy it, let me study its lines. The composition is a dance. The strong blacks make a graphic and stylish statement by putting much pressure on the rest of the components of the piece. The people are dynamic dancers against a steady and stable background of horizontal lines. Hence an agreeable tension. Every component of tension in the composition is balanced by another. I leave you to draw your own lines and conclusions. If you are new to this, make a visit to my Dali hub or the Last Supper one for starters.

Let me enjoy the curves of The Singing Butler. The curves make the wind visible, and the elements seem to dance with the couple. Or are the lines the musical notation of the butler's song? The dancing curves would have made the composition too dynamic and unstable, but the dominant horizon anchors it safely. The horizon line has further support from the parallels on the wet beach. The wetness of the beach makes it a glistening dance floor, a mild visual joke of the artist.

Now please take a committed look at 'The Singing Butler' and give us your take.

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Comments 73 comments

Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 7 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

Well i like it, thanks for highlighting the composition. I am an aspiring artist www.delectations.co.uk


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India

Loved it Kenny - incredible what stories there are behind each work of art.....OK...even if it isn't strictly art! Great videos!


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 7 years ago from Chennai Author

Thank you, my early visitors and friends. :)

Gypsy, you are an artist, not an aspiring one. :)

Shalini, it is art, strictly. Popular art is art too. :)


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

Hi Kenny - thanks for answering my request. I've always liked Jack Vetteriano's work and was pretty sure you'd have an interesting take on it. I'd never noticed (till now) that the dancers are in a reverse hold, with the gentleman's left hand on the lady's waist. I wonder why he did that? Maybe a dancer like Marisa can say if this happens, maybe in tango? Don't know. Some of Vetteriano's paintings are of darker scenes, usually of the same period, but looking at the lives of escorts and call girls. I've seen reflections of Degas in some of his material. I don't grudge the guy an iota of his success. He paints to please himself and pleases thousands in the process. Good luck to him.

Have you ever come across another self taught artist - Andre Fougeron? Another interesting story there.


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 7 years ago from Chennai Author

My pleasure, Paraglider.

He has painted a mirror image of the couple in the reference book for some reason, making it funny tango. :) Here's a link where they discuss that:

http://activerain.com/blogsview/793090/what-is-wro...

Andre Fougeron? No, but I will take a look, thank you.


Iðunn 7 years ago

It's that lovely surrealism I'm so fond of, or close enough. What a charming painting and how cunningly it's been discussed for us by such a charming analyst. kudos!


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 7 years ago from Chennai Author

Aw, thank you Iðunn, for the compliments. :) Cunning? :D Charming? ;)


Iðunn 7 years ago

I love the painting btw and the red dress is just right. It needs the red, I think. I can't imagine it in green (emerald). And yes, I think you are almost cunningly charming. :p


Philipo profile image

Philipo 7 years ago from Nigeria

Love this.


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 7 years ago from Chennai Author

Thank you, Philipo. :)


newsworthy 7 years ago

Vettriano's works are very elegant to say the least. Your take on the composition is truly inspiring.


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 7 years ago from Chennai Author

Thank you, newsworthy. Your comment inspires me too. :)


RKHenry profile image

RKHenry 7 years ago from Your neighborhood museum

Spectacular! Great job.


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 7 years ago from Chennai Author

Thank you very much, Henry!


Iðunn 7 years ago

you know, on looking at it again, it came to me the old dance movies, fred estaire and ginger rogers. I think that adds to the positive connotation. since it's been discussed unfairness to the maid, I have to say that was the last thing I thought of, how unusual for me. haha, I guess I was less cynical when I was young. it's really a magical piece for me, filled with nostalgia for a previously imagined nice world.


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 7 years ago from Chennai Author

Ah, yes, Astaire and Rogers.

Not 'when I was young,' dear friend, but 'when I was younger.'

Don't look now, but there's someone else in your avatar pic. ;)


Iðunn 7 years ago

hehe, don't you hate it when that happens? I do feel badly I was caught in a huge socialist gaffe of not noticing and raging on behalf of the proletariat maid. sigh. how very elitist of me. lol. :P


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 7 years ago from Chennai Author

Yes, Iðunn, but then they are as lost in the dim past as fairytales, when you see the progress in equality and technology and everything. When someone looks at a fantasy picture, they identify with royalty, not with the commoners. But the butler and maid are okay. As they showed in that ballet version, they have their fling after the stars depart. :)


Iðunn 7 years ago

now THAT is a lovely thought... true love burgeoning on the sidelines, out of the limelight. I like that. riches come in many forms.


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 7 years ago from Chennai Author

How true, how true. Riches usually come in unrecognizable forms. Many don't know they are rich, and hence remain poor.


Iðunn 7 years ago

they say knowledge is power but they often say ignorance is bliss. I ascribe to both depending on the day. haha. I love the bit in the movie "volunteers" with tom hanks about power, money and opium. have you seen that movie? "what was power again?" lolol


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 7 years ago from Chennai Author

Still, the ignorant walk carefully while the knowledgeable march. Yes, it depends on the day, LOL

No, I haven't, but will see if I can. Didn't see much of Hanks after the Da Vinci disaster.


Iðunn 7 years ago

you might like it. it's a comedy and even includes parody of my beloved communism, activism and travel. I'm a huge Tom Hanks fan anyway, and I loved his little character in the movie. it's essentially about my favorite subject, however, true love. I suppose one would classify it as a light romantic comedy.

I think I missed the da vinci disaster you speak of... now I'm curious.


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 7 years ago from Chennai Author

I loved in, who doesn't, in Forrest Gump.

Meant 'The Da Vinci Code,' which I didn't enjoy.


Iðunn 7 years ago

ah, I missed that one.  the church doesn't approve... but that's not why I didn't watch it.  LOL. 

it's because it's a thriller and I'm just not into thrillers, spy movies or most action.  I prefer docos and drama, independent and foreign.  you know how I am elitist like that.  it's surprising I even saw 'volunteers'.

I did like Forest Gump and even the movie they parodied it in "Cecil B. Demented" which was, I believe, a John Waters film.


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 7 years ago from Chennai Author

You would be the first in queue if the church doesn't approve usually, or do I read my friend wrong?

I'm not elitist and I would watch anything that is told well, even docs.

I'm sorry for the lag in replying; this old goat had to drop his kid at school. Now off to breakfast too.


Iðunn 7 years ago

quite so, I resent being told what information or opinions I might or might not have and being allowed to make my own decisions regarding the veracity.  ah, no worries on time, best thing about boards or hubs... we can come or go.  I went off to eat a very late dinner myself. 


goldygo 7 years ago from Scotland

The Singing Butler is one of my favourite images by Vettriano. Art deco at its best


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 7 years ago from Chennai Author

yes it is, goldygo :)


ralwus 7 years ago

I am also self taught. I love doing nudes. Don't like to show them much and hold dear to them jealously.


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 7 years ago from Chennai Author

Thank you ralwus. I think teaching ourselves is best, too. :)


pan1974 profile image

pan1974 6 years ago from Columbus,Ga

Loved it


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 6 years ago from Chennai Author

Aw, thank you, Pan


Pachuca213 6 years ago

I have several prints of Vettriano's in my home. I truly love all of his work and have yet to have seen one that I didn't like. He was truly a great artist!


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 6 years ago from Chennai Author

Right, Pachuca, and thank you :)


knell63 profile image

knell63 6 years ago from Umbria, Italy

Hi Kenny, Nice story, Ive always liked the simplicity of his work,its good to get a bit of background to paintings as well makes them even more interesting.


nikki1 profile image

nikki1 6 years ago

cool hub


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 6 years ago from Chennai Author

Thank you Knell and Nikki! Glad you found it useful. :)


Art 4 Life profile image

Art 4 Life 6 years ago from in the middle of nowhere....

I enjoyed your hub, very informative...I am a self taught artist, not real good, but I enjoy painting and drawing..You write great hubs, I will be back to read more!


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 6 years ago from Chennai Author

Thank you, Art! Wishing you lots of happy times painting and drawing!


Ramona Povey profile image

Ramona Povey 6 years ago from UK

Mmmm...I am a self taught artist so I never really think about 'tension'...You're making me nervous, I just paint and don't really think about the more technical side at all...Did Mr Vettriano 'think' about it I wonder...

ps. interesting hub - made me think.


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 6 years ago from Chennai Author

Most artists do, Ramona. This is like some writers plotting their stories before they write while some just sit down and write to see where it takes them. As long as it suits your style and you produce beauty, you don't have to worry too much. :)


RosWebbART profile image

RosWebbART 6 years ago from Ireland

Wonderful hub ; I have always loved this painting.


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 6 years ago from Chennai Author

Thank you, Ros! :))


mhuze profile image

mhuze 6 years ago from USA

The Singing Butler is one of my favorites. To me, it's a sweet,romantic portrait.


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 6 years ago from Chennai Author

Thank you, Mhuze! :)


myartbroker profile image

myartbroker 5 years ago from Windosr

Great hub, keep them coming!


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 5 years ago from Chennai Author

Thank you! :))


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

Wow! what an incredible hub. First, I LOVE that painting. I always have and never knew the 'story' behind it, or the title, although I was always curious about it. The painting caught my eye b/c of the 'red' contrast and dance pose. Second, as a former ballerina, I enjoyed the choreographed version of this painting. I've choreographed many dances and found unique ideas (such as this painting), for a dance story. I had no idea that someone had choreographed a piece to the 'Singing Butler'. Third, I really appreciated the explanation and diagrams about the lines and curves. I'm fascinated by art and what an artist can see beyond what an untrained eye views. I'd love to learn to paint, and hopefully I will one day.

Thank you-I rated this hub up. Nice to meet you.


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 5 years ago from Chennai Author

Thank you Denise for your generous appreciation! You were a choreographer and a ballerina? Oh wow! Something I can't do! :)

Please start painting! The more art in this world, the better! :))

Nice to meet you, too!


tomgurney profile image

tomgurney 5 years ago from London

Fantastic content, really interesting to read about The Singing Butler in slightly more technical detail than is normally available on the internet.


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 5 years ago from Chennai Author

I love your hub on the Singing Butler, too, Tom! Good show! :))


forkhyun profile image

forkhyun 5 years ago from Korea, Canada

Wow! Amazing work! love it so much! I also want to share some of my work with you guys. It's not that great but if you want, please feel free to visit me!

http://hubpages.com/art/beautiful-paintings-in-wat...


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 5 years ago from Chennai Author

Thanks, Forkhyun, on behalf of Vettriano! :D


bugslady8949 profile image

bugslady8949 5 years ago from The Bahamas

you did a great job on this hub, I did not know so much about singing in the rain, you really open your eyes.


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 5 years ago from Chennai Author

Aw, thanks, Dieula! :))


kaity 4 years ago

can some 1 plz tell me what is the title of his artwork?


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 4 years ago from Chennai Author

'The Singing Butler,' Kaity. :)


katherinethorell profile image

katherinethorell 4 years ago

Thank you so much for this article. I've always loved Jack's work, and any background information on why he did what he did is interesting to me. Thanks!


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 4 years ago from Chennai Author

Delighted, Katherine, and thank you too, for telling me. :)


mark ronson 4 years ago

amateurish painting, amateurish review.

"I have more to comment on the sociological aspects of this piece of art than an artistic one. The painting portrays a couple of a bygone era of Edwardian England. Upperclass romance aided by the feudal lowerclass. The couple have chosen to dance on the beach, oblivious to the strong wind and the approaching storm."

you have a very shallow view of the world. there is nothing sociologycal about this painting. it's just a series of figures copied from a book. if we really want to find a meaning behind it, we can't because, despite its amateurish quality, we can classify it as a metaphysical painting. So no social-historical meaning, just the deep silence frozen in time.

The lines of the composition are put in a totally arbitrary manner, you just need a circle to define that picture.


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 4 years ago from Chennai Author

Ha, ha, so I'm a shallow amateur? Some people get kicks out of belittling things so they can feel superior, while we inferior folks have to content ourselves with appreciating things. Thanks, anyway, Mark Ronson.


jufras 4 years ago

I wonder what the painting would look like on the other side of the mirror?


Jude 4 years ago

Hello Kenny,

Ha-ha. It is a terrific painting. I just now found your page after googling painting maid butler field dancing after my mother-in-law mentioned my recent thrift store art find was also hanging on her sister's wall.

The painted copy I now own (24 by 36") was made in '04 and alas the signature, thus far, is unreadable. It most certainly isn't by Vettriano, but it has boatloads of charm.


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 4 years ago from Chennai Author

At least it is painted, and not a print. And it has charm. What else does a wall need? Thanks, Jude!


Phil O. Sophie 4 years ago

"Some people get kicks out of belittling things so they can feel superior, while we inferior folks have to content ourselves with appreciating things."

I just saved this as a quotable lol. How immensely true!

Thank you for your insightful musings on this lovely piece of ART. I'm using it as inspiration in my Color Theory class.


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 4 years ago from Chennai Author

Delighted, Phil! Thank you!

Regarding the comment that you quoted, my excuse is that I was so mad at him! :D


Phil O. Sophie 4 years ago

Ha ha, that I gathered, but you handled yourself very maturely in the face of a very immature and petty comment, which is a rare and refreshing thing to see, especially on the internet!


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 4 years ago from Chennai Author

Thank you, Phil. I meant it. Why can't people take pleasure from creating things, and if they can't create, at least appreciate creativity. If they can't do even that, they can at least refrain from tearing down what has been built by others. :)


Phil O. Sophie 4 years ago

I couldn't agree with you more! There is no sense in having such a negative attitude toward someone or something just because you happen to have a different opinion or perspective. Simply state your views in a diplomatic rational way that doesn't tear down the work of others.


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 4 years ago from Chennai Author

Nicely put, Phil! :)


Pravin cool 4 years ago

Beuatiful art.....


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 4 years ago from Chennai Author

Yes, Pravin. :)

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