I've always been a fan of the surreal. (Maybe my life has seemed surreal to me, even before I knew the meaning of the word.) My earliest art memories (late 1950's) are of dreamlike paintings in the halls of the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles; my mother and I would always go there for lunch after a concert at the Philharmonic Auditorium across the street, and soon I became quite adept at spotting a Robert Watson painting from afar and among all of the landscapes, portraits, and still-lifes displayed for sale. The paintings' lonely mood touched and moved me. I fantasized about saving up my allowance and buying one, which at that time was around $200.
Years later I went to a Salvador Dali exhibit at Hollywood's Barnsdall Gallery, and by then the art of the surreal had hooked me. And I had yet to discover René Magritte!
So, as a tango dancer, I too was attracted to Jack Vettriano's painting of The Singing Butler before it became kitsch and on the walls of every dance studio in the world. He also paints other dance scenes that are lesser known, but tangueros are especially drawn to The Singing Butler because the mirrored leg position shows it's a tango on the beach, and not a waltz or a foxtrot.
Dance to the End of Love
Billy Boys, who sure look like a group of tangueros on their way either to or from a milonga.
But the most well-known is The Singing Butler. The dancers here are not lonely, but in their own private world of the tango embrace, while sheltered by paid help who modestly look away. Perhaps the butler is singing "Por Una Cabeza?"
People have been inspired by this painting to do take-offs and photo recreations, but what most don't know is that Vettriano himself was inspired by the depictions of dancers in an art textbook! Didn't you wonder why the dancers are portrayed backwards?
C.Dedeene designed the choreography for this Vettriano take off and the photo is by Greta Colpaert
Vettriano in Devon photo by Steve Morrall
Works by Jack Vettriano, Scotland's most famous artist have fetched record prices at auction. But his paintings may owe a lot to teach-yourself manuals. Some of his works show strong similarities to an artist's teaching manual. His most famous work, the Singing Butler, was last year sold for almost £750,000. It was revealed that its characters, and many others, can be found in The Illustrator's Figure Reference Manual, published in 1987.
Another article on Vettriano's inspirations here.
Here are some other works which may have inspired The Singing Butler, or were rather inspired by Magritte. What is it about black umbrellas, water, and raining men?
The Wolverine Magritte
Photo by Joseph Hancock
Golconda by Rene Magritte