John Bellany

Allegory (1964)

About this artwork

This triptych was exhibited at Bellany's postgraduate exhibition in 1965, when the artist was twenty-three years old. The layout of 'Allegory' derives from Grünewald's 'Isenheim' Altarpiece, but the subject matter is autobiographical. As a student, Bellany had a Saturday job gutting fish in Port Seton, a small fishing village south of Edinburgh. The setting of 'Allegory' is a mixture of Port Seton and Eyemouth (another fishing port), where Bellany's grandparents lived. The gutted haddock, displayed in the manner of the Crucifixion, become metaphors for suffering humanity; the passive fishermen replace Christ's family and the Roman soldiers. Bellany has given religious monumentality to a real-life scene.

  • title: Allegory
  • accession number: GMA 3359
  • artist: John BellanyScottish (1942 - 2013)
  • gallery: In Storage
  • object type: Painting
  • subject: Fishing industry Christianity
  • materials: Oil on hardboard (triptych)
  • date created: 1964
  • measurements: 212.40 x 121.80 cm; 213.30 x 160.00 cm; 212.50 x 121.80 cm
  • credit line: Purchased 1988
  • copyright: © The Estate of John Bellany. All Rights Reserved 2016/ Bridgeman Images
  • photographer: Antonia Reeve

John Bellany

John Bellany

Bellany was born in the fishing village of Port Seton, near Edinburgh. He studied at Edinburgh College of Art and at the Royal College of Art, London. His work of the 1960s and 1970s dealt with original sin, guilt, sex and death. His characteristic paintings are large compositions featuring his own personal symbolism, often derived from the sea and from religion, two elements that dominated his childhood. The flawed nature of humanity was usually central to his paintings. Bellany became seriously ill in the 1980s and underwent a liver transplant operation in 1988, after which his work became more optimistic in mood.

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