Before he was Bond: Semi-nude portrait of Sean Connery reveals his early promise

Last updated at 10:34 25 October 2007

Before he was Bond - Sir Sean Connery was already gaining a reputation for his handsome looks.

And judging from this recently unearthed canvas, set to go on display at a major exhibition - it's not hard to see why.

A portrait of the celebrated Bond actor in a pair of skimpy trunks, painted before he was famous, will go on display at a major exhibition tomorrow.

The picture was painted in 1952, when Connery was just 22, by jazz musician Al Fairweather who was a student at Edinburgh College of Art.

At that time Sir Sean, now 77, was in the peak physical condition that won him third place in the Mr Universe competition, and used to pose as a life model.

The oil on canvas painting shows a side-on view of a muscular Sir Sean dressed in body-building trunks.

The Fairweather portrait shows Connery when he was in his early 20s after he had returned to Edinburgh from a three-year stint in the Royal Navy.

By that time he had worked through a succession of deadend jobs and had enrolled at a gym on the Royal Mile when he was selected by the college for life classes.

Connery was one of a group of models from a weightlifting club. He followed one of his friends who had started modelling at the college and had then got his friends involved.

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Former art student John Houston, was one of a talented group of students that included his wife Elizabeth Blackadder, David Michie and Frances Walker.

He told The Times: "It was a paid job and most of them stayed for six months or a year. They would be involved in day classes twice a week, holding the same pose and working from 9.30am until 4.00pm.

"I vaguely remember drawing Connery, but he made no great impression."

Soon afterwards, Connery moved to London to pursue the acting career in which he would be cast as James Bond in Dr No, which was released in 1962.

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The artist, Al Fairweather, also went on to forge a successful career, recording for Esquire records with Sandy Brown in the Fairweather-Brown All Stars and working with clarinettist Acker Bilk.

The painting has been in the collection of the school of drawing and painting at Edinburgh College of Art for more than 50 years, but has rarely gone on display.

The college has now included the work in its centenary exhibition Ten Decades at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh, which runs from October 27 to January 19, 2008.

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There will be more than 80 works on display in the exhibition, which aims to offer a retrospective journey through the past century.

It includes work from the college's collection, the city's collection, individual artists and The Fleming Collection.

The exhibition will transfer to The Fleming Gallery in London in January.

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