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John Bellany’s 1962 painting the Boat Builders has been acquired by the Scottish Maritime Museum. The huge work measures 9ft 10in x 16ft 4in (3 x 5m) and was purchased for £200,000.

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Completed in 1962 while the painter was at the Edinburgh College of Art, it is one of the first works known by the artist and is thought to represent both the history of boat building in his family and the beginning of the relationship with his wife Helen.

It is a huge work measuring 9ft 10in x 16ft 4in (3 x 5m) and has been in private ownership for the past 55 years. Helen unveiled the painting at the museum in late September, calling it “one of the key works of his career”.

The scale of the works, its allegorical nature and importance of the sea are all characteristic of Bellany’s works, which also dealt with ideas of the human condition and original sin in this early period.

“It promises to be a highlight of the museum’s thriving collection of Scotland’s maritime heritage,” said Stephen Deuchar, director of Art Fund, which contributed £90,000 to the purchase of the painting. An extra £95,000 came from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and £15,000 from the National Fund for Acquisitions.

The painting is currently on show as part of the museum’s exhibition Maritime Perspectives: Collecting Art of a Seafaring Nation (until October 21) and will afterwards remain on view until the end of March when it will undergo conservation work.