William Scott 1913-1989

Provenance

Hanover Gallery, London

Sir Basil Spence, London, and thence by descent 

Private Collection, UK

Exhibitions

London, Hanover Gallery, William Scott: Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings, September - October 1956, no. 5.
Venice, British Council British Pavilion, XXIX Venice Biennale, 1958, no. 45: part of this exhibition travelled to Paris, Musée Nationale d'Arte Moderne, November 1958, no. 96; Brussels, Palais des Beaux Arts, March 1959, no. 92; Zürich, Kunsthaus, April - May 1959, no. 46.
Bern, Kunsthalle, Victor Pasmore William Scott, July - August 1963, no. 11: part of this exhibition travelled to Belfast, Ulster Museum, September - October 1963, no. 8.
London, Tate Gallery, 54:64 Painting and Sculpture, 1964, no. 179. Totnes, Arts Council, Dartington College of Art, Corsham painters and sculptors, July - August 1965, no. 154: this exhibition travelled to Sheffield, Graves Art Gallery, August - September 1965; Walsall, Art Gallery, September - October 1965; Cambridge, Arts Council Gallery, October 1965 and Middlesbrough, November - December 1965.
London, Tate Gallery, William Scott, April - May 1972, no. 46.
London, Royal Academy, British Painting 1952 - 1977, September - November 1977, no. 37.

Cork, Crawford Municipal Art Gallery and touring, ROSC '80 Irish Art 1943-1973, August 1980 - February 1981, no. 101.

2016, London, Piano Nobile, Aspects of Abstraction: 1952-2007, 17 May - 23 June 2016, cat. no. 3, col. ill. p. 17. 

Literature

Erica Brausen, letter to William Scott, 1 September 1956.

Reg Butler, letter to William Scott, [September] 1956.

B. Taylor, 'The Paintings of William Scott' in Arts Magazine, p. 41, No. 31, November 1956, illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, XXIX Venice Biennale, Venice, British Council Pavilion, 1958, no. 45, illustrated.
A. Denny, Basil Spence in Canonbury, House and Garden, circa 1960.
A. Bowness, William Scott: Paintings, London, 1964, p. 36, no. 73, illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, 54:64 Painting and Sculpture, London, Tate Gallery, 1964, no. 179, illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, William Scott: Paintings Drawings and Gouaches 1938-1971, London, Tate Gallery, 1972, no. 46, illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, British Painting 1952-1977, London, Royal Academy of Arts, 1977, no. 37, illustrated.
N. Lynton, William Scott, London, 2004, p. 182, no. 111, illustrated.

S. Whitfield (ed.) and L. Inglis (ass. ed.), William Scott: Catalogue Raisonné of Oil Paintings Vol II 1952-1959 (London with William Scott Foundation, 2013), cat. no. 295, illustrated.


In the summer of 1953, William Scott visited the United States, meeting Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko. Scott later recalled, “My impression at first was bewilderment, it was not the originality of the work, but it was the scale, audacity and self-confidence – something had happened to painting.” Upon his return to England, and the resumption of his teaching post at Bath Academy of Art, Scott became a medium between America and the next generation of British painters looking to the bravura and dazzling modernity of artists of the New York School of Abstract Expressionism such as Robyn Denny, Howard Hodgkin and Gillian Ayres.

Negotiating between formalism and representation, the expression of the pure medium of paint and the gesture of symbols, between post-war American modernity and the pull of pre-war European modernism, Scott’s work embodied the unique situation of the British abstract artist. Curator and collector Alan Bowness distilled this struggle in Scott’s work into that between “austerity and sensuality.”

For three years after his visit to America, Scott painted only abstract works – by 1956 he had reintroduced figurative elements of pots, pans, pears, and nudes into his paintings. In September of that year, he held an exhibition of these works at the Hanover Gallery in which Brown Still Life was exhibited but not for sale. His dealer, Erica Brauser, initially withheld it as a “masterpiece…I do not want to part with”, but it was eventually relinquished from the exhibition to be purchased by Sir Basil Spence, President of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Brown Still Life, with its pleasing near-golden ratio dimensions of 1:1:64, hung in the dining room of Spence’s house in Canonbury, London. Anthony Denny described how, “The furnishings and decoration of the dining room were designed around the tawny browns, creams and greys of a large William Scott still life”. Sculptor Reg Butler wrote to Scott, having seen Brown Still Life in the Hanover Gallery show: “I was enchanted by [the exhibition]. I liked the sculpture, I liked the drawings, and, of course I liked the paintings – specially the great big light brownish one, opposite the desk – heaven knows why but it made me think of Breughel!”

Brown Still Life is formed of Scott’s idiosyncratic personal lexicon of saucepan, three pans and one dish in white or black. These kitchen items overlap one another, are cropped by the edges of the composition and flattened against the ochre brown of the table and the creamy-brown of the wall. Paint is handled delicately with neither sensual broad brushstrokes nor self-conscious precision, instead rich layers of tactile paint are overlaid. Two pans are depicted with thick white paint, whilst the saucepan is merely outlined with dry ink-blue paint. Chris Stephens has likened the importance of the pan to Scott as the violin to Picasso and Braque: it is the pillar of all formal experimentation and expressive meaning. In 1947, Scott stated, “I find beauty in plainness, in a conception which is precise…a simple idea which to the observer in its intensity must inevitably shock and leave a concrete image in the mind”. The simplicity of these domestic objects betrays the enigmatic power of Brown Still Life. Erotic shapes of concave curves and handles of pans are dispersed with lyrical rhythm across the luscious brown ground. Stark yet corporeal, monumental yet intimate, boldly modernist yet speaking to centuries of tradition, Brown Still Life is amongst Scott’s most compelling executions of his life-long pursuit to synthesise divergent poles of modernity.