John Bellany, Fishers in the Snow, 1966

The painting below is an oil painting on a wooden board

John Bellany (1942-2013)

John Bellany is one of Scotland's best-known and leading artists and has inspired a generation of younger artists, particularly those looking for a way to relate personal or contemporary experience to universal themes.

The sea and fishing are key themes for an artist born to a family of fishermen and boatbuilders, as are the often repressive role of the church and traditions of Calvinism in Scotland. There is often a strong autobiographical focus to his paintings.

.Fishers in the Snow

This painting, made in the first decade of the artist's career, refers to fishing as a form of sacrificing nature to human life. The cool colours in the work help convey a sombre mood and a sense of real-life cold wintery conditions. The work depicts a fishing scene of a group of fishermen gathered around a catch, with two figures at the front of the picture plane, resembling icons, who stare out at the viewer, and there are a number of fishing boats in the background. In addition to this realism, there is also a sense of mystery and hauntedness about the figures.

The idea of nature being sacrificed to humanity suggests why there may be a reference here to earlier paintings of burials - the grouping of figures around the fish and snowy ground recalls Sir James Guthrie's (1859-1930) A Highland Funeral, 1882, which is in Glasgow Museums collections, a painting that itself recalls Gustave Courbet's (1819-1877) A Burial at Ornans, 1845-50. Courbet's social realist paintings were of interest to Bellany at this time when he was seeking to develop a form of painting that could deal with autobiographical content

Artist Biography

Born in Port Seton in 1942 to a family of fishermen and boatbuilders, John Bellany went on to study at the Edinburgh College of Art from 1960 - 65 under the tutelage of Sir Robin Philipson. He studied at London's Royal College of Art for three years. The 1970's was a low point in the artist's personal life, which is reflected in some of the paintings from this period. After a successful liver transplant in 1988, he created a series of drawings of himself in his hospital bed shortly after recovery.

He was awarded the CBE in 1994 and has received Honorary Doctorates from the University of Edinburgh and Heriot Watt University. He is represented in many public collections, including Aberdeen Art Gallery, the British Museum, the Dublin Museum of Modern Art, Dundee Museum and Art Gallery, Glasgow Museums, the Hunterian Art Gallery, Kirkcaldy Museum and Art Gallery, Leeds City Art Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Metropolitan Museum, New York.  

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