William Scott 1913-1989


Hanover Gallery, London
Galerie Charles Lienhard, Zurich
Private Collection, Italy
Lorenzelli Arte, Milan
Austin/Desmond Fine Art, London
Private Collection


1956, London, Hanover Gallery, William Scott: Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings, 25 Sept. - 26 Oct. 1956, unnumbered
Jordan Art Gallery, Toronto
1959, Zurich, Galerie Charles Lienhard, William Scott, 11 Nov. - 12 Dec. 1959, cat. no. 5 (as Still Life on Black Table)
2009, London, Austin Desmond Fine Art, Aspects of Modern British and Irish Arts, 20 Nov. - 22 Dec. 2009, cat. no. 17, illustrated in colour


Luigi Lambertini, William Scott La Voce dei Colori, 2005, exh. cat. Lorenzelli Arte, pp. 7, 9, 36 and 37 (col. illus.)
Sarah Whitfield, ed., William Scott: Catalogue Raisonné of Oil Paintings Vol. 2, 2013, Thames & Hudson, cat. no. 298, pp. 154-155 (col. illus.)
William Scott was the leading pioneer of post-war British abstraction. He enrolled at the Belfast School of Art in 1928, moving to London three years later to study at the Royal Academy Schools. Shortly after marrying in 1937, Scott and his wife Mary Lucas travelled to Italy and France, eventually establishing an art school in Pont-Aven with the painter Geoffrey Nelson. In 1938, Scott exhibited at the Paris Salon d'Automne and was elected Sociétaire. During the war he served with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and then as a lithographic draughtsman with the Royal Engineers. Between 1946 and 1956, Scott was Senior Painting Master at Bath Academy of Art, Corsham, from where he made frequent trips to Cornwall and befriended many of the St Ives Group. He visited the USA in 1953 and met leading Abstract Expressionists. In 1958 he represented Britain at the Venice Biennale. He later won the International Critic's Prize at the São Paulo Biennial in 1961. Scott had multiple retrospectives across Europe in the 1960s and a major retrospective at the Tate in 1972. He was elected a Royal Academician in 1984.

On Scott's visit to the USA in the summer of 1953, he met with Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and Mark Rothko. He 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.' Back in England Scott resumed his teaching post at Bath Academy of Art and became a bridge between America and the next generation of British painters looking to the excitement of contemporary American painting, Robyn Denny, Howard Hodgkin and Gillian Ayres among them.

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 'Still Life on Black Table (II)' was exhibited. It was painted by September, the very month of the Hanover Gallery show, and recorded as 'Still Life on Black Table (II)' in the Hanover Gallery ledger.

Very similar in format and composition to 'Still Life on Black Table' of the same year, it is a good example of Scott's method of building up textures across the canvas, from the heavy areas of impasto in the black saucepan to the very lightly applied grey paint skimmed over the pan to the left. 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'.