Jack Vettriano's former home, London

 

Iím sure everyone in the western hemisphere has seen a Jack Vettriano image. His painting The Singing Butler has become the best selling image in the UK and it's so ubiquitous you may be tired of seeing it. You must have seen Jack's paintings with their nineteen-fifties flavour - beaches, courting couples, women applying lipstick, pretty dresses. These days he seems to have given up painting despite being one of the most popular painters in the world. Here I am outside the flat in Knightsbridge, a short walk from the back entrances of Harrods department store. Here he sat at his easel in the bay window on the first floor and completed many famous paintings.

 

Nowadays heís a multi-millionaire but Jack - real name Jack Hoggan - grew up in poverty in Methil in Scotland. He shared a small minerís house with his parents and shared a bed with this brother. Aged 16 he left school to become a mining engineer but it didnít worked out and he had various jobs. Aged 21 his girlfriend bought him some watercolour paints for his birthday which later triggered a glittering career. He moved onto oil paints, mastering impressionist paintings having studying those hanging in the local Kirkcaldy Museum and Art Gallery.

 

He married and worked in educational research but was painting feverishly, even having a shed specially built for his obsession. Aged 36 he left his wife Gail and quit his job to become a full-time painter. For the first time he had all day to paint. Passing a mental threshold he changed his name and started signing his work "Vettriano", his mumís maiden name. A year later saw a vertical rise in his fortunes after two paintings he'd submitted to the Royal Scottish Academy annual show sold on day one. Several galleries wanted to represent him. Soon he was finishing two or paintings a week and there followed exhibitions in Britain, Hong Kong and Johannesburg for hungry buyers. In his late forties 21 paintings were shown for the first time in New York City and 40 collectors from the UK flew out for the event (all but one were sold on the first night.)

 

Nowadays Jackís paintings cost between £50,000 and £200,000 and extra royalties flood in as they're replicated on umbrellas, coasters, pillowcases, plates, etc. Oddly he hasnít painted (or released) anything new for a few years. He seemed to stop when he fell down his stairs at home and broke his arm. Perhaps the thrill of it all has gone as he seems to have given up. Perhaps he had too much success too soon.

 

I've passed the flat a few times and after scooting around Harrods I thought I'd see if The Master was mastering a painting in the bay window (no such luck.) In recent years I read Jack sold the place as there were too many people revving their luxury cars though but one interview alluded to London being flooded with Arabs and Russians. I remember reading about this flat when it was for sale as the new owner would also get a free JV painting - one Jack has painted on a cupboard door. I went to have a look through the main door into the foyer and touched the door knob in the hope that some of Jack's talent would rub off on me. Years ago I visited the London shop dedicated to selling framed prints and the lady running the place said Jack called in sometimes but was so shy he could barely make eye contact.

 

I sat on the step of an apartment block across the road and had a coffee and a sandwich. I was hoping Jack was on the toilet and would return to his easel in the bay window anytime. No sign of life. He may have been at his other place in Nice or Kircaldy. A woman pulled up before me in a car and I helped her get some plants out of the boot. I was hoping she'd say her apartment looked directly onto Jack's window and she could tell me a few tales but she seemed cold. I did a salute and left.