Bellany, John (Scottish, 1942-2013)

Bonjour Professor Calne

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In 2013, Scottish painter John Bellany died after a long illness. This painting refers to an earlier emergency when, due to heavy drinking brought on by bouts of depression, he needed a liver transplant. The night before the transplant he completed a painting, and soon after the operation he began this one. His physician and later close friend Sir Roy Calne (a pioneering British transplant surgeon, born 1930) said, “the day he came out of the intensive care ward he asked not for analgesics but paper and pen. I’ve never come across anybody who the day they came out of the intensive care ward started resuming their profession.” (quote from: The title of this work refers to an 1854 painting by French artist Gustave Courbet, who shows a proud version of himself meeting two men on the road—a patron and his servant. Bellany is far from the healthy Courbet, lying weakly in his hospital bed. Behind him stand his patron, Sir Roy Calne, another doctor, and a nurse. Under his hand he inscribed, “thank you all.” The book on the table—Confessions of an Unjustified Sinner—and a deck of cards might refer to the past lifestyle that led him to this moment. The entire image is filled with hope: paintings all around, reflecting the career that he loved and continued as soon as he was able; a dedicated medical team; bright and cheerful colors; and a smile on his own face. The hope became reality—the year before he died, he said, “I have had an absolutely incredible 30 years of life since the transplant.” Notes by Mariann Smith
Physician-Patient Relations
Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums Collections, Aberdeen, Scotland