John Bellany (b. 1942)
Born into a family of fishermen and boat builders, John Bellany grew up in a Calvinist community on the east coast of Scotland. From 1960 to 1965 he attended Edinburgh College of Art, where he studied Drawing and Painting with Sir Robin Phillipson. Just graduated, he showed at the Dromidaris Gallery in Holland in 1965. Further to travels in Belgium and The Netherlands, Bellany continued his studies with Carel Weight and Peter de Francia at the Royal Academy of Art. In 1967, he visited Germany, where the remains of the Buchenwald concentration camp reinforced his engagement with religion and the human condition. Following graduation from the Royal College of Art in 1968, Bellany taught at Brighton College of Art and then Winchester College of Art. Further to regular exhibitions at the Drian Gallery in London, he started to show in solo exhibitions across the United Kingdom. In 1978, he was appointed lecturer in Painting at Goldsmiths College of Art, a post he held until 1984. Meanwhile, in 1982, Bellany had his first international solo exhibition at Rosa Esman Gallery in New York. This led to a string of exhibitions around the world and then a major show at the National Portrait Gallery in London in 1986. The first solo exhibition ever held at the National Portrait Gallery, it centred around Bellany’s portrait of the English cricketer Sir Ian Botham, a work the gallery commissioned in 1985.
It is at this time also that Bellany started to suffer from liver failure. Having undergone a successful liver transplant at Addenbrook's Hospital in Cambridge in 1988, he formed a close friendship with Sir Roy Calne, the surgeon in charge of the operation. In 1992, Bellany paid tribute to Calne and his survival in a diptych entitled Sir Roy Calne; John Bellany, a work commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery.
Two works in the Fitzwilliam Museum also relate to this period, both given to the museum by the artist: Portrait of Sarah and Portrait of Sarah with Aga, painted in 1990. Sarah was Bellany's neighbour at Little Eversden in South Cambridgeshire, where he recovered from the transplant operation.
In 1991, the Fitzwilliam Museum dedicated a solo exhibition to Bellany. It was in preparation for this exhibition that Bellany painted Love Song: Homage to Titian. A frequent visitor to the museum at the time, the painting relates to Titian’s Venus and Cupid with a lute-player, of course.
Bellany was elected a Fellow of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, in 1988, a Royal Academician in 1991, and awarded a CBE in 1994. His work has been the subject of numerous articles and documentaries and can be seen in public collections in Britain and the USA.
John Bellany lives and works in Barga, Tuscany.
J. McEwen, John Bellany, Mainstream, 1994
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