John Bellany, Fishers in the Snow, 1966

John Bellany is well-known for his large-scale paintings that reflect on everyday life as well as aspects of the human condition. 

The sea and fishing were key themes for an artist born to a family of fishermen and boatbuilders. His work often also explored the role of the church and traditions of Calvinism in Scotland.

.Fishers in the Snow

This painting, from early in the artist's career, refers to fishing as a sacrifice of nature that sustains human life. The cool colours help convey a sombre mood and a sense of real-life cold wintery conditions. The painting features a fishing scene of a group of fishermen gathered around a catch. Two haunted-looking figures at the front of the picture plane, resembling icons, stare out at the viewer.

At the time of making this painting, Bellany was influenced by the large-scale social realist paintings of French artist Gustave Courbet. In particular, Courbet's painting A Burial at Ornans of 1845-50 showed small town life on a grand scale usually reserved for allegorical or religious subjects. The grouping of figures also recalls Sir James Guthrie's (1859-1930) A Highland Funeral of 1882.  


Born in Port Seton in 1942 to a family of fishermen and boatbuilders, John Bellany studied at Edinburgh College of Art from 1960-65 under the tutelage of Sir Robin Philipson. He then studied at London's Royal College of Art for three years. The 1970's was a low point in the artist's personal life, which is reflected in some of the paintings from this period. After a successful liver transplant in 1988, he created a series of drawings of himself in his hospital bed shortly after recovery.

He was awarded the CBE in 1994 and received Honorary Doctorates from the University of Edinburgh and Heriot Watt University. His work is represented in many public collections, including Aberdeen Art Gallery, the British Museum, the Dublin Museum of Modern Art, Dundee Museum and Art Gallery, Glasgow Museums, the Hunterian Art Gallery, Kirkcaldy Museum and Art Gallery, Leeds City Art Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Metropolitan Museum, New York. The artist died in 2013.

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