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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.
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 lower-class. 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 who 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.
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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.