Monty's misery too much for Vettriano's national ambition

Artist declines to paint a portrait of the sportsman despite prestige commission
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The Independent Culture

They are two of Scotland's most famous and richly rewarded sons, but when Jack Vettriano was asked to paint his fellow countryman Colin Montgomerie, his opinion of the golfer's looks outweighed any long-held desire for his work to hang in the National Gallery.

The former miner, who taught himself to paint and went on to produce the hugely popular but critically despised work The Singing Butler, has revealed how he turned the commission down after being contacted by gallery chiefs while in France. "I said, 'I'm afraid that the answer is no'.

"I don't do men with breasts and I don't mean that as unkind to Colin Montgomerie. My art dealer said, 'Think about it,' and I said, 'I have, and the answer is no,'" he told an audience of admirers earlier this week.

Vettriano has been shunned by the art establishment, despite his most famous work fetching £744,000 at auction and the fact that Jack Nicholson and Sir Alex Ferguson are among the most ardent collectors of his work. It has long been a source of irritation to him that his unofficial position as the people's painter is not reflected in his inclusion in the national collections, alongside the old masters of his native Scotland and despite one former director lambasting his work as "lifeless".

Speaking at the Adam Smith College, in Kirkcaldy, he explained how the Montgomerie events had unfolded: "I was in France when I got a call from my art dealer, who said there might have been a breakthrough. 'The National Galleries would like you to do a portrait.' I said, 'Who?' 'Colin Montgomerie'".

He added: "I have to paint a face I like. Have you seen Colin Montgomerie's face recently?"

It is perhaps fair to say that Montgomerie does not command the same kind of popular appeal as Vettriano. While the Glasgow-born Ryder Cup player has enjoyed a highly successful career in professional golf, some fans – and many journalists – have found him hard to love.

Some followers of the sport in the United States have taken to ribbing him and booing his presence on the tee. The difficult relationship has been fuelled by Montgomerie's often downcast appearance, and is exacerbated by repeated problems with photographers and fans. His on-course nickname is Mrs Doubtfire, after the Dustin Hoffman film character.

The breasts jibe is reported to date back to the 2002 US Open at Bethpage, New York, when he was assailed by one of his American tormentors with the greeting: "That's a nice pair of tits you've got there."

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery poured cold water on Vettriano's account yesterday, saying that it had not contacted the painter. A spokeswoman said: "A few years ago, a suggestion was made to the NGS for a portrait but no formal approach was ever made by us to the artist." One suggestion is that an intermediary may have been trying to broker a deal.

As well as the National Galleries and Scotland's leading individual sporting star, it seems that Vettriano is also displeased with Sport Relief. A portrait of Zara Phillips, which some commentators had claimed was worth up to £1m, was sold for just £36,000 at one of their recent auctions.

The artist does respect some of Scotland's sporting legends though. Earlier this year, he collaborated with Sir Jackie Stewart on a triptych of paintings celebrating the former Forumla 1 world champion, which was unveiled in Monaco.

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