The painting believed to have inspired the cover of the Beatles’ legendary album Sergeant Pepper has sold for €52,722 (£45,360) at Sotheby’s in London, bringing the work back to public attention after 60 years in the hands of the same private collector .
‘Tribute to Douanier Rousseau’ was painted by 22-year-old John Bellany in 1964 and depicts the Scottish artist himself (far right) alongside his friends and the four members of The Beatles Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
The work is a monumental diptych that Bellany painted after traveling to Paris on a scholarship in April 1963. There the Scottish painter had the chance to observe masterpieces from the time of the French Revolution , and on his return to Edinburgh – where he attended the Ecole Supérieure d’Art – he decided to make “Tribute to Douanier Rousseau”.
The painting, auctioned off last week, replaces the gunners in Rousseau’s original painting with The Beatleswho in 1964 were at the height of their worldwide fame and had already become icons of pop music and of their entire generation.
It was displayed outside the Royal Scottish Academy in August 1964, and was the last it had been seen for 60 years.
Bellany’s painting is said to have inspired pop artist Peter Blake for his work which became the band’s album cover Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, released in 1967. In the iconic cover, McCartney, Lennon, Harrison and Starr stand before a crowd of celebrities wearing a range of British Army-looking uniforms, badges and medals psychedelic.
As Blake was one of Bellany’s mentors at the Royal College of Art in London, where Bellany moved after marrying Helen Percy, Sotheby’s said “it is not inconceivable that Blake is aware of Bellany’s recent work”.