John Bellany at the Portrait Painting Gallery in Barga
John Bellany 'Woman with a Fish' at Art Gallery in Barga
In 2023 it is ten years ago the great Scottish painter John Bellany (1942 - 2013) passed away.
Bellany was born in the fishing village of Port Seton, near Edinburgh. He studied at Edinburgh College of Art and at the Royal College of Art, London. His work of the 1960s and 1970s dealt with original sin, guilt, sex and death. His characteristic paintings are large compositions featuring his own personal symbolism, often derived from the sea and from religion, two elements that dominated his childhood. The flawed nature of humanity was usually central to his paintings. Bellany became seriously ill in the 1980s and underwent a liver transplant operation in 1988, after which his work became more optimistic in mood.
Living the Italian way of life
In 2000 Bellany bought a house in Barga, Tuscany. Living the Italian way of life for several months a year reinforced a more life-affirming, optimistic view of things. His paintings became brighter and more colourful; the sense of guilt and personal doom was lifted. He began to paint more and more landscapes, townscapes and harbour scenes. This was no doubt triggered by his frequent travels to other countries (such as China in 2003), but also by his feeling more at home in Italy, surrounded by glorious countryside and charming old towns, and by his frequent visits to Scotland. In a way, this was Bellany coming home, both in terms of subject matter and in terms of voluptuous use of paint and a new joy in colour.
He passed away in 2013, just months after a major retrospective at the Scottish National Gallery. This was his first show of this scale in three decades, and its title perfectly captured the essence that set him apart as a painter: 'John Bellany: A Passion for Life'.
Bellany's work is included in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Metropolitan Museum, New York, the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut and Tate Britain, London and of course the John Bellany Museum in Barga, open since 2019.