The Singing Butler

Singing Butler by Jack Vettriano (1992)

Jack Vettriano’s The Singing Butler gives a fantasy appearance of certain social classes of the early 20th century.

In this painting we have the figures of four characters from two different social classes. There is a butler, maid, and two formally dressed dancers. The posture of the characters really captures the observer’s attention when you glance at the painting. The maid and the butler seem to be crouching over with the umbrellas while the two dancers are elegantly standing up to dance. The colors also jump out at the viewers. Everyone is wearing white and black except the woman who is dressed in a long red evening gown and barefoot on the beach. The colors of the sand are also interesting since they appear to be a sunset but there are dark grey clouds approaching in the background. It looks like it has already rained since the sand that they are dancing on is wet. Along with the colors, the observer should notice that none of the characters in the painting have faces. They are all looking away from the audience and the maid and butler appear to almost be hiding their faces or shielding them from wind from the approaching storm. Next we look at the size of the umbrellas. The one the butler is holding appears to be much larger than the one the maid is holding. This could be due to the fact that the butler is closer in the painting than the maid. Lastly an observer should notice that the dancing pose that the characters are in is opposite from a normal dance position. The man should have his other arm on the woman’s back and the woman should be holding the man’s shoulder with her left hand instead of her right.

We could interpret this painting as a mix between the feelings of the wealthier class and the lower class people back in the early 20th century. The author has been quoted saying that he thinks of his painting as an “uplifting fantasy.” The colors of the sand and the elegant clothing represent the fantasy party of his statement. The people dancing seem to be oblivious to the storm approaching in the background and don’t really seem to be affected by the wind that appears to be in the picture. The maid and the butler seem to be struggling to stand up and hold the umbrellas. This could represent the struggles they endured and no one seemed to really appreciate their efforts; such as how they are holding the umbrellas.

The fact that the butler is also dressed in nice clothing indicates that he is not poor. The butler in the early 20th century was in charge of a lot of the household. They were the head of all of the male servants. He was in charge of everything in household and oversaw everything as well. The size of the umbrellas in the picture could be interpreted as being symbols of their status in the household. The butler runs the show and makes sure everything is going smoothly so his umbrella would be large to represent his position while the maid is in charge of certain chores around the house so hers would be smaller.



  1. Jacqueline,
    I think the connection you made between the different class levels in this picture is interesting and I can see how it is the most prevalent theme of the picture. You also chose a great and unique picture that could be interpreted in many different ways. The description you made is detailed and covers every aspect of the picture. I’m a little confused on you’re connection between the picture being an “uplifting fantasy” and it showing the the different social classes. I don’t see how it is uplifting to see the struggles of lower class people while the upper class people are enjoying an easy life. However, I think you made a great interpretation of why only the butler and maid are affected by the storm and the couple don’t seem to notice it. It ties in nicely with the social class theme because it shows how much more the lower classes struggle compared to the higher classes. A few questions that I think would be helpful to elaborate on are why are they on a beach, what’s in the background behind the maid, and what is the significance to both those answers. Overall, you did a great job of interpreting such a complicated and questionable photo.


  2. The very first time I saw this picture I read it as the couple continued to dance even in the rain. In spite of the storms of life they were going to dance and enjoy it. The maid and butler were honoring their efforts by holding the umbrellas for them.
    I have this picture on order and I am sure will enjoy it for many years to come.

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