A NUDE painting of Sir Sean Connery by a late Selkirk teacher who never displayed any of his artwork during his life will go on show in the town’s Halliwell’s House Museum this week.
Robert Webster, better known as Rab, died in October aged 83, but hit the headlines a month later when the oil-on-canvas of the James Bond star was discovered.
The painting, drawn while Rab studied at Edinburgh College of Art in the early 1950s just before Connery’s big break in the stage production of South Pacific, was among more than 500 paintings by the well-known Selkirk figure found after his death.
Elizabeth Hume, visual arts officer with Scottish Borders Council, said a selection from the collection would go on display in the museum’s Oor Rob exhibition, opening this Saturday.
Elizabeth said: “I read about the discovery of the Sir Sean Connery painting in TheSouthern last year and it also featured in the national press. I also noted Rab had never held an exhibition before. I am always on the look-out for quirky and interesting exhibitions for the museum and Rab fitted the bill.
“I was also a student at Edinburgh College of Art so it has a personal interest for me. Unfortunately Sean Connery was not a model when I was there.”
Rab (self portrait, top of page) was brought up in Newtongrange and served in what was then Palestine during his National Service, before attending the art college.
After graduating, he took up a teaching post at Dalkeith High School, followed by a job in a school in Tayport.
He then moved to become an art teacher at Selkirk High, taking over as principal of the department when the late John McNairn retired.
His move to the Borders continued his lifelong passion for rugby, and he turned out for Selkirk Rugby Club’s second XV. He played his final game for Dalkeith FP at the age of 51.
Rab became affectionately known as a third of Selkirk’s own Last of the Summer Wine, alongside Tommy Heatlie and George Turnbull.
As well as learning Gaelic and teaching himself to read poems in French and Welsh, Rab was also a renowned Burns speaker.
There was a three-year waiting list to book his recitation of Holy Wullie’s Prayer for a supper, according to ex-Selkirk provost Jim Newlands.
He stopped producing paintings after 1968 and many friends and family were unaware of his huge accumulation.
Elizabeth said: “We don’t know why he never exhibited. It is quite strange because the paintings are very impressive and of a professional standard.
“It was hard to say where a lot of his works were painted as there are no dates or locations on the canvases.
“We had to rely on the family’s knowledge to identify a lot of them. But we felt the exhibition was important as many people in the area either knew Rab or were taught by him.”
Speaking to TheSouthern last year, Nick Bihel, who is married to Rab’s niece Heather, explained why he suddenly stopped his prolific art career.
Nick said: “He just had so many other interests. But I know he never sold a single painting or held any exhibitions of his own work.
“He would donate the odd painting now and again to a charity but that was all. The paintings cover a range of topics, including landscapes of places like Harris, Tiree and Pitenweem, to portraits, like the one of Sean Connery.
“I remember Rab telling me about Sean Connery posing for the students. He said Connery treated it just as a job and that he didn’t say very much.”
Oor Rab is open until Sunday, August 14 in the Robson Gallery in Halliwell’s House Museum. Admission is free. For information, phone 01750 20096.