JOHN VERNAL (1914-2002) ‘Multi-talented and humble’

Jim Vernal, 2019 (Artist’s son)


John Vernal, a religious Christian and devoted member of the Scripture Union.  He was a lover of poetry, mythology and folklore.  A conscientious objector, he won his appeal and did not fight in the war on the grounds of conscience.

Last week I was honoured to meet with the family of John Vernal and have been inspired by his fascinating story which is why his art is celebrated and special to both his family and a wider audience.  We are offering two of his portraits in our next Interior sale on Saturday 9th November.

He painted posters of adventure and escapade and even re-painted some of his favourite works.  His early career was strongly influenced by Greek Art.  Some of his earlier works from the 1960s include Tribesman both from South America and Africa and a princess from Kongo – these were painted with poster colours, more animated than his watercolours.


A lover of classical music and ballet, following a visit to Norway he painted Norwegian dancers and trolls in woodlands.  He met with Norwegian and Danish teachers following the family trip and painted a large series of watercolour presenting the villagers.  Unfortunately, he gave up his career in teaching due to being profoundly deaf and fuelled his energy into his art career.

He was also a relief minister on the Western Isles of Scotland, his time spent here drove his love of wildlife, especially birds – a repeated motif in many of his works. During his early life he worked for the forestry commission and this certainly fed his love of nature and the outdoors.  His fondness of wildlife is shown in his series of butterfly illustrations, his designs based on every specimen of butterfly.

His star pupil cartoonist Malcolm McCormick thrived and painted members of the Scottish parliament.  McCormick attended John’s funeral where he was met by son Jim.  In exchange for one of John’s works, he painted a picture of the artist together with the famous Scottish comedian Billy Conolly as a gift to Jim.


Following John’s passing, the family unearthed the true meaning behind his paintings – all his pictures represent the creation before the fall of Adam when everything was perfect and tranquil, centred on the notion of genesis.  His command of anatomy is reflected in many of his works, featuring undressed figures of dancers.

In the 1970s, he painted using a palette of vibrant and expressive colours, authentic to the period.  He did not use white in his palette, and strictly used this for mixing.  He experimented with light and did not apply paint to parts of the backdrop of the canvas. During this period, he painted Spring Awakening – a personal favourite of the family. Following conservation, they discovered on the verso of this an incomplete composition from the start of his career in the 1940s.

He was inspired by fairy tales and painted popular narratives including Hansel and Gretel.

Sadly, in his mid-80s he lost his ability to paint following a fall and later lost his sight – this did not stop his strong desire and love towards nature, mythology and art. His talent and forte are still commemorated today.

We are excited to be auctioning some of these beautiful paintings by John Vernal.

Lot: 290 – ‘JOHN VERNAL [1914-2002]. signed watercolour on paper titled verso ‘In The Medici Garden.’ (Estimate: £200 to £400)

Lot: 291 – JOHN VERNAL [1914-2002].  signed watercolour on paper titled verso ‘Paradise Enon (Rubaiyat Of Omar Kaytham).’ (Estimate: £200 to £400)

Megan Evans – Probate Valuer and Fine Art Cataloguer


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