Vettriano's secret and the £16.99 book

Works by Scotland's most famous self-taught artist have fetched record prices at auction. But his paintings may owe more to teach-yourself manuals than anyone suspected ... Paul Kelbie reports

Now it appears his detractors may have had a point. Figures bearing an uncanny similarity to some of Vettriano's most recognisable paintings have surfaced in a £16.99 art manual.

The guide, The Illustrator's Figure Reference Manual, published in 1987 - the year Vettriano took up painting full-time - was intended as an aid for commercial artists. Now out of print, the book, which contains photographs posed by models intended to be traced or copied, are almost identical to those in Vettriano paintings such as The Singing Butler (1992), Dance Me To The End Of Love (1997), Elegy For A Dead Admiral (1996) and Waltzers (1992).

In some cases, only the clothes worn by the figures appear to have been changed. In The Singing Butler, the figure of the maid holding an umbrella is very similar to a figure in the manual of a woman holding her hat. The dancing lady is painted without the shoes she wears in the photograph and the colour of her dress has been changed to red.

The figures in Elegy For The Dead Admiral have even more striking similarities. The violinists on either side of the table and the waiter pouring the wine for a woman customer are almost identical to those in the book.

The similarities were discovered by Edinburgh graphic designer Sandy Robb when he was doing research for a friend's wedding invitations. While looking through the illustrator's reference manual he came across a number of images which he recognised as exactly the same as those in The Singing Butler and other Vettriano paintings.

Vettriano has never pretended to be anything other than self-taught. He once said: "I've always tried to be level-headed about what I am. I've never said I was a great painter, or that I should be in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art."

Critics have slated his efforts as "populist and unchallenging" and none of his works hangs in a major British public gallery. But yesterday a number of artists sprang to his defence.

"Art does not come straight out of nature, it comes out of other art," said fellow Scottish artist Richard Demarco, who is an honorary member of the Royal Scottish Academy. "Manuals, whether they are about architecture or about painting, have been used since the beginning of time. It doesn't matter what the source is, the magic is how he uses this manual to turn such basic, bland figures into something unique and unforgettable."

Francis McKee, a researcher at the Glasgow School of Art specialising in copyright and intellectual property, agreed. "People might use this to get at him because they are anxious about some other aspect of his work or his success and popularity but really you can't fault him for using these images," he said.

"These are standard practice models and he has just taken it a bit further as the basis of his images. I can't see anything wrong with that at all. Most artists survive on theft in some way. When you look at the renaissance period, such as medieval paintings of the Madonna and child, it was the same image all the time.

"Many modern artists use photographs now as the basis of their work to help them with their composition. It is a well-tried formula. It is interesting that people get upset about this in relation to Vettriano. You might not like Vettriano's work, but there is something else going on here."

Vettriano was born Jack Hoggan in St Andrews on 17 November 1951. At the age of 19 he gave up his job as a miner and had a number of different jobs before becoming a painter when he was 22. He subsequently took his mother's maiden name, Vettrino, and added an "a".

While his works sell for hundreds of thousands of pounds and are collected by the rich and famous - Robbie Coltrane and Jack Nicholson are among his fans - copies and prints are also available on everything from posters to coasters.

His most popular work, The Singing Butler, which set a Scottish record when it sold for £750,000 in April last year, is the best-selling print in Europe - more popular than Monet's Water Lilies or Van Gogh's Sunflowers. Vettriano himself was typically modest about this achievement, saying: "The Singing Butler is not the best painting in Scotland. It's just that in April two people were hell-bent on buying it.

Last year painter Joe Mclaughlin found himself in the middle of a plagiarism row with the world-famous artist after he was wrongly accused of copying one of Vettriano's works. He was threatened with legal action after being inspired by a photograph in a glossy magazine to paint a portrait in March 2003 of Vettriano standing next to a naked model. Called "The Artist", Mr Mclaughlin's painting depicted Vettriano arranging the rear-view pose of a naked model and was sold for £540 in May 2004.

Unfortunately, Vettriano had also produced a version of the same scene called "Reach Out and Touch" which formed part of a new exhibition, the first in four years, of his work at the Portland Gallery in London where it was valued at between £35,000 and £120,000. Mr Mclaughlin denied a breach of copyright and the matter was ultimately resolved when it became clear both artists had been inspired by the same image.

Yesterday Mr Mclauglin said he was "gobsmacked and angry" after discovering that the Fife-born painter had copied some of his most famous images from an art book. "The words kettle and pot come to mind when I think what he accused me of and then find out he has done exactly what he wrongly criticised me for.

"It is unbelievable. He and his gallery owner were prepared to ruin my career for something he has already done in some of his most famous works. The difference is that I was wrongly accused but even after I explained it to them, they were insisting I had to destroy paintings and tried to ruin me.

"A lot of Vettriano's early works seems to be from this reference book so it seems bizarre that he should accuse anybody of copying something when he has clearly done it himself."

Yesterday, Tom Hewlett, Vettriano's agent, defended the artist. "It is widely known that Jack is a self-taught artist and it seems unsurprising that as, in his early painting years he had neither time nor money at his disposal to work with real life models, that he should use a teaching manual such as this," he said.

"Vettriano's skill lies in his ability to create narrative paintings with which the viewer becomes involved. He is a master of generating atmosphere in his paintings and bringing to life the characters within them. In this way he transforms mundane characters into extraordinary ones and everyday scenes into special occasions."

A spokesman for the National Galleries of Scotland said: "I don't think this will change anyone's view of Vettriano. He has never claimed to do anything different and the book itself is designed to be used in the way that he used it. Vettriano is very good at what he does."

News
people
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes