Tributes have been paid to the “shy wee boy from Port Seton” who went on to become a “true Scottish giant.”
The death last week of artist John Bellany, at the age of 71, has saddened the communities of East Lothian which remained close to his heart as he took the world by storm.
He was said to be surrounded by his family and “clutching a paintbrush in his hand” when he died in his studio on August 28, following a period of ill-health.
The son of a fisherman, John was born in Port Seton in 1942 and his family’s connection with ship building and the sea played a considerable influence in his figurative art.
He was famous for his paintings of fishing villages which were collected and exhibited around the world - adorning the walls of the National Gallery, the Tate Modern and New York’s Metropolitan Museum, among others.
In 2005, when he became the first Freeman of East Lothian, he told the News: “Visually, Port Seton was an unbelievable place to live, with the harbour as its fulcrum.
“Everyday I was confronted by wonderful sights and I could not stop painting with these sights right in front of my eyes and in my heart.”
Describing himself as “a shy wee boy from Port Seton” he paid tribute to sense of community which gave him the confidence and inspiration to realise his potential.
“I don’t know if we appreciated it at the time, but in retrospect we lived an idyll and people really did care about each other enormously,” he went on.
He also acknowledged the part played by Preston Lodge High School in his success, adding: “I would not have been where I am if it were not for Preston Lodge and the camaraderie of spirit that existed there.”
John went on to study at Edinburgh College of Art and the Royal College of Art in London. Known for his sometimes turbulent lifestyle he underwent a liver transplant in the 1980s after a period of heavy drinking.
After divorcing his first wife Helen Percy, the couple later remarried following the death of his second wife, Juliet Lister in 1985.He was awarded the CBE in 1994 and in recent years he made Italy his home, helping to nurture twinning links between the Tuscan town of Barga and Prestonpans.
A statement on the artist’s official website announcing his death said: “It is with great sadness that we mark the passing of a true Scottish giant.”
Leading the tributes, East Lothian Provost, Ludovic Broun-Lindsay, said: “The name Bellany is recognised world-wide as an artist of considerable influence and reputation.”
Council Leader, Willie Innes, added: “I had the great pleasure of meeting John Bellany and was struck by his down to earth response to the considerable fame and acclaim his work generated.
“He never forgot his roots and returned to Port Seton and his former school of Preston Lodge High School, Prestonpans as regularly as his busy schedule would permit. His vibrant depictions of East Lothian life provide a tremendous legacy for future generations.”
More local stories in this week’s East Lothian News, on sale now.