Study for 'Bluebird at Bonneville' depicts the iconic image of Sir Malcolm Campbell M.B.E.’s (1885-1948) famous Bluebird car, which broke the land speed record on Utah’s Bonneville salt flats in 1935. Campbell first broke the land speed record in 1924, at Pendine Sands near Carmarthen Bay in Wales. He would go on to break nine land speed records between 1924 and 1935, culminating in Utah on 3 September 1935, becoming the first person to drive an automobile over 300 mph.
Study for 'Bluebird at Bonneville' dates from 1996, two years after his first one-man show in London, held at the Portland Gallery in 1994. On that occasion, every picture was sold and Vettriano was launched to national and indeed international attention: with solo exhibitions is London, Scotland, Johannesburg, New York and Hong Kong. He has established a reputation as one of Britain's most popular narrative painters, with his work featured in private and corporate collections worldwide. Looking atthe present work, the reason for his success is clear: in his pictures, Vettriano plunges the viewer into a narrative that is nostalgic, glamorous, even decadent.
The setting in the present work, with its rich golden sand and bright blue sky evokes Vettriano's celebrated beach scenes, like his most celebrated work, The Singing Butler. Indeed, it was in 1996 that Vettriano ceased to paint beach scenes, although he has stated that he may return to the subject in the future. Much like the present work, these pictures manage to capture the imagination. The formal clothing and iconic car are imbued with Vettriano’s distinctive nostalgic and mysterious language.
Vettriano was essentially self-taught as an artist. He began by creating copies of works by old and modern masters alike, before creating his own subject matter. He tends to work from photographs, rather than life, a natural evolution of his earlier practice. The son of miners, who himself worked in the pits in his native Kingdom of Fife, in Scotland, Vettriano followed in the footsteps of a number of other autodidact artists, not least Vincent van Gogh, whose letters he devoured at an early stage as he sought his own voice. Looking at Study for 'Bluebird at Bonneville', a number of older artists appear perhaps to reverberate through the composition, from Eugène Boudin's glamorous beach scenes of the Nineteenth Century to Edward Hopper's discreet dramas of isolation. In Study for 'Bluebird at Bonneville', Vettriano appears to have taken these different roots and pushed them in a new, narrative direction, recreating a film still from a celebrated moment in twentieth century history.
Study for 'Bluebird at Bonneville' is a detailed and fully-worked study for one of seven paintings originally painted for Sir Terrence Conran’s Bluebird club in 1996: a Grade II-listed building on the Kings Road in Chelsea, London, which had its origins as a noted Art Deco garage complex built for the Bluebird Motor Company. The larger, full-scale version, remains the second highest price for the artist at auction, when it sold in 2007.
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