Lot 203
  • 203

John Bellany, R.A.

12,000 - 18,000 GBP
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  • John Bellany, R.A.
  • Fishermen in the Snow
  • oil on board
  • 243 by 183cm.; 95¾ by 72in.
  • Executed in 1965.


Sale, Sotheby's Gleneagles, 31st August 1993, lot 1116 (as Sunday Morning, Port Seton), where acquired by David Bowie


John McEwan, John Bellany, Edinburgh, 1994, p.60


The work consist of two boards nailed around the edges to a wood stretcher. Both boards very slightly bowed to the centre but otherwise appear sound. The edges of the board and very slightly frayed and there are Artist's pinholes visible in a number of places around the edge, with a few associated tiny flakes of loss. There are minor scuffs and scratches with associated losses around the extreme edges, with one or two scattered elsewhere throughout the work. Some of the impasto elements are very slightly flattened. There are specks of studio matter scattered throughout the surface and there is a light layer of surface dirt and some areas of possible discolouration to the varnish in places. Subject to the above the work is in very good overall condition. The work is presented unframed. Please telephone the department on +44 (0) 207 293 6424 if you have any questions regarding the present work.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

‘I was so fortunate to be raised in Port Seton. Its elemental background, the terrors of the sea, the church. I could paint allegories, elegies and epic statements because the imagery was so strong and the colours of life were so rich. What an upbringing for an artist.’  (John Bellany quoted in, The Scotsman, 2005)

The town of Port Seton lay at the very heart of John Bellany’s unique vision. The cold waters of the Firth of Forth, the traditional fishing community, the heavy cloak of Calvinism, these influences informed and permeated nearly every aspect of his artistic life. Bellany was born in Port Seton in 1949 and from his earliest years the boats packed together in the town’s harbour became an obsession, the centre of his childhood universe. The young Bellany studied them intimately and by drawing them repeatedly developed both his artistic hand and eye. Over time these fishing boats began to transcend the physical and economic, they became an archetypal symbol, a metaphor for the voyage of life.

During the 1950s Port Seton was served by thirteen churches and the Calvinist teachings espoused from the pulpits hung over the town like a giant drift net, Bellany himself explained that ‘Religion in the village wasn’t something you swotted up for like an exam, you wore it' (Bellany, ibid). This strict moral code and its emphasis on suffering and guilt had a profound effect on Bellany and his art is imbued with a religious rhetoric and symbolism. Fishermen in the Snow encapsulates entirely this atmosphere of deep rooted religious austerity. This period of Bellany’s career is often considered the most fertile and accomplished and his biographer John McEwan notes that ‘for many these grim, visionary testimonies to the stoicism of the fishing life have a metaphorical force he has never surpassed’. (John McEwan, John Bellany, 1994, p.18)

Fishermen in the Snow was one of the first works David Bowie purchased at auction and held a highly significant position in the collection. Bowie was fascinated by Bellany's upbringing and, not content to simply interpret Bellany’s art from a distance, visited Port Seton on a number of occasions in order to understand fully the influences and forces behind the works in his collection. Indeed, Bellany recalled that: ‘He [Bowie] comes to Port Seton a lot. He told me he goes with a ‘reverent feeling’ to try and find out what might have inspired the paintings in his collection. One time he was staying at the Caley Hotel in Edinburgh and he came to our flat for dinner. I asked him, “Well, David, what have you been up to today?’ He said: ‘I’ve been down to Port Seton again…”’ (Bellany, ibid.).