Bellany was born in Port Seton. His father and grandfather were fishermen in Port Seton and Eyemouth near Edinburgh.
During the early 1960s, he studied at Edinburgh College of Art, here he met with other young Scottish artists to begin lifelong friendships and share ideals for a renaissance in Scottish arts. His contemporaries included Alan Bold and Alexander Moffat. Bellany and Moffat studied under Robin Phillipson. Their initial interest was in impressionism but with their common Scottish ancestry they looked toward Alan Davie as a connection to a greater but more accessible artistic world.
After his studies at Edinburgh, Bellany achieved a major travelling scholarship and traveled around Europe discovering how the traditions of the great northern European masters could be connected to his own Scottish experience. After this he would marry Helen Percy and move to attend the Royal College of Art in London.
In 1967 he was invited to a trip to East Germany. In Dresden he viewed Otto Dix's War triptych
He was elected to The London Group in 1973
When in 1974 he separated from his wife his art appears to take on a darker tone. The symbolism increases and it seems as though each picture can have a whole narrative of symbols within it, increasingly the pictures become wilder and wilder tending more to expressionism, at this point he suffered a nervous breakdown and returned to Port Seton for recuperation.
The New York 1982 tour which included a showing at the Rosa Esman gallery, presented his work to a much greater audience, resulting in purchases to important private collections as well as to the NY MOMA. One of the works exhibited was Time and the Raven, a particularly strident work. The works title was borrowed by his friend Sir Peter Maxwell Davies for his UN composition of the same name in 1995
In 1984, following an impromptu holiday in France with his first wife and family he was diagnosed with liver disease, an consequence of his alcoholism. He abstained for the rest of his life but the damage had been done.
In 1985 his father and second wife Juliet died. A retrospective was arranged for the National Gallery of Modern Art. The exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery included a portrait of the cricketer Sir Ian Botham. This portrait attracted more publicity for Bellany than he had ever previously achieved.
In 1988 Bellany was operated on for a then relatively new liver transplant procedure, this also inspired works.Carried out at Addenbrooke's hospital in Cambridge by Sir Roy Calne, Bellany not only survived but started to paint within hours of the operation - first producing a portrait of the nurse caring for him, then going on to produce a set of pictures known as the Addenbrooke's series.
Bellany received an Honorary Doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in 1998
In 2003 Damien Hirst came out as an admirer of Bellany and bought several of his works as well as praising him as one of the major painters of the twentieth century.In 2005 he suffered a heart attack. He died in 2013.Wikipedia