Jack Vettriano has said the gallery where he sought inspiration as a young artist “means the world to me” as a major exhibition of his work opens there.

The show at Kirkcaldy Galleries will be the artist’s first retrospective since a major display at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow in 2013, and the first to focus on his formative years and early career.

Vettriano, from Fife, left school at 15 to become a mining engineer but took up painting after a girlfriend gave him a box of watercolours for his 21st birthday and came to Kirkcaldy Galleries to learn from the work of other artists.

He studied the works of Scottish painters such as Samuel Peploe and William McTaggart so intently that he feared arousing the suspicions of gallery staff.

Bluebird at BonnevilleBluebird at Bonneville is among the paintings that will be on show (Danny Lawson/PA)

Vettriano said: “I’m pretty certain they thought ‘he’s in to steal a painting’.

“I’d gaze at those pictures endlessly, homing in on the brushstrokes, wondering how the artists did it.”

The exhibition, titled Jack Vettriano: The Early Years, will include a dozen oil paintings, produced by the artist in his 20s and early 30s – all signed with his birth name, Jack Hoggan.

He later adopted his mother’s maiden name to mark a break with work sold under the name Hoggan.

The new exhibition, which opens on Friday June 17, will include one of two paintings Vettriano entered for the Royal Scottish Academy’s annual show in 1988.

Both paintings sold on the first day, a turning point that inspired him to become a full-time artist.

However he did not forget his Fife roots, and when he was represented by the Portland Gallery in London, he made sure his work was shown in Kirkcaldy.

The Billy BoysThe Billy Boys is one of Vetrriano’s well-known works (Jack Vettriano/PA)

He said: “I loved coming to the gallery here and seeing the work that had been exhibited in London – and I was astonished by the crowds it drew.

“This gallery means the world to me. Throughout my career, the staff have always been very warm towards me.”

The exhibition at Kirkcaldy Galleries, which is managed by cultural charity OnFife, covers the artist’s career up to 2000.

It was originally planned for 2019 but was postponed twice because of Covid-19 restrictions.

Alice Pearson, exhibitions curator with OnFife, said: “The show looks amazing. As well as paintings being exhibited for the first time, there are the showstoppers that everyone knows and loves – such as Billy Boys and Bluebird at Bonneville.

“With these paintings, it’s like meeting an old friend – but actually seeing the work will give fans a real thrill.

“Nothing prepares you for seeing paintings ‘in the flesh’ – there’s always more to discover when you see the real thing.

“Jack’s most famous works have been reproduced countless times but, when you get up close, you see swirls of paint, brush marks and even the occasional hair from a paintbrush.”

She added: “I think Jack is being really brave showing the works he painted while he was learning his craft, but it allows us to follow an amazing journey.

“The artists Jack chose to copy tell us a lot about what matters to him – Rembrandt’s mastery of dark and light or Monet’s use of colour, for example. You can see him developing his technique painting by painting and see just how far he has come.”

The exhibition runs until October 23.