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    Sale 12223

    Modern British & Irish Art Evening Sale

    20 June 2016, London, King Street

  • Lot 4

    William Scott, R.A. (1913-1989)

    Seated Figure no. 1

    Price Realised  


    William Scott, R.A. (1913-1989)
    Seated Figure no. 1
    signed 'W SCOTT' (lower left)
    oil on canvas
    60 x 30 in. (152.5 x 76.2 cm.)
    Painted in 1954.

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    Scott was ‘the first British painter of significance to get to know the new heroes of American painting’ (see Norbert Lynton, op. cit., p. 109). 

    "Sometimes the object disappears and takes on a new meaning.  It is during this moment of transition when I feel I realise most completely my intentions" (exhibition statement by Scott, 1955).

    "I have a strong preference for primitive and elementary forms and I should like to combine a sensual eroticism with a starkness which will be instinctive and uncontrived" (exhibition statement by Scott, 1955).

    1953 can be seen as a pivotal year for William Scott and demonstrates the arrival of new visual expression within his oeuvre. It was the year that he begun to be represented in London by the Hanover Gallery who held his first one-man show at the Gallery in London in June - July 1953 and it was also the year that twelve pictures by Scott on exhibition to the 1953 São Paulo Bienal, organised by the British Council. The Hanover Gallery had opened in 1948 with a Graham Sutherland exhibition and soon added Francis Bacon to the artists it represented.   

    Crucially, in the summer of 1953, Scott travelled to New York where he met Martha Jackson, founder-owner of one of New York’s leading Contemporary Art galleries. Norbert Lynton explains that Scott’s London exhibition had been visited by James Johnson Sweeney, then director of the Guggenheim Museum, and by Andrew Ritchie, director of MoMA. Sweeney reported to Martha Jackson that ‘at last England has a painter’ (letter from Martha Jackson to William Scott, 25 September 1953, collection of the Scott Archives). Ritchie encouraged Scott to visit Martha Jackson on Long Island and she wrote to Scott from Long Island on 3 August 1953, suggesting that when he visited New York he might like to use the bedroom available at her gallery and that he should also ‘come out [to Long Island] and meet de Kooning, Jackson Pollack [sic], James Brooks etc.’  Jackson took Scott to visit these and other Abstract Expressionists who were spending summer in that area; that autumn Martha Jackson came to London to see Scott’s work at the Hanover Gallery as well as in his studio and flat and began to plan his first New York exhibition at her gallery (see Norbert Lynton, op. cit., p. 109).

    Scott’s recollection of the course of events were documented in the 1972 Tate Retrospective exhibition catalogue, ‘… back in New York I met Rothko and I spent several evenings with [Franz] Kline at the Cedar Bar [a favourite meeting place of the New York avant-garde].  I was the first European painter apparently to visit Pollock, but Rothko and Kline, I gathered, were very Anglophile and very curious to hear about the art situation in England.  I saw a large mixed exhibition of American art at the Museum of Modern Art … 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.  I was seeing, I learned afterwards, what were called Action painters and Abstract Expressionists … I returned convinced that the Americans had made a great discovery and that the mood in England – a longing for a nice comfortable realist art – would not last much longer’  (see W. Scott and A. Bowness, ‘Biographical Notes’, exhibition catalogue, William Scott, Tate Gallery, London, 1972, p. 71).

    Having encountered American abstract artists of the day, including Pollock and Rothko, the latter of whom went on to become a friend who visited him in England, Scott was influenced to a degree by their work, but he returned to England with an understanding that he was fundamentally a European painter, more in the traditions of Cézanne and Bonnard, taking his cue from the intimate interiors with figures by tables, rather than the epic work he had seen in New York.   

    Scott’s technique varied between thin oil washes, ‘smeared’ paint surfaces, some highly worked areas and sometimes using sgraffito, incorporating sometimes a mix of sand, applied like the plaster on a wall, much in the same way that his contemporary Antoni Tàpies worked in Spain.  Tàpies occupied an area between figuration and abstraction and he too had visited Martha Jackson in New York in 1953 and she held his first one-man exhibition the same year and it is also known that Scott bought a collage by Tàpies from the gallery.

    Another influence on Scott at this time was the French artist Nicholas de Staël who held his London debut exhibition at the Matthiesen Gallery, London, in early 1952.  It is known that Scott and his friend the painter Patrick Heron were both ‘enormously impressed’ with this exhibition and perhaps the less exotic Abstract Expressionism from a European hand, Tachisme, with an element of recognisable subjects, where the texture of paint held its own importance. (Norbert, op. cit., p. 113).     

    Norbert Lynton discusses New York’s interest in European art which culminated in the MoMA exhibition ‘The New Decade:  22 European Artists and Sculptors’; ‘very substantial catalogues, including artists’ statements as well as critical texts commemorated these exhibitions and extended their discourse.  ‘The New Decade’ … presented seven French artists, three Germans, five Italians, a Dutchman (Karel Appel) and a Portuguese woman (Vieira da Silva), the last two working in Paris, and five British artists: Scott, Armitage, Bacon, Butler and Chadwick, thus two painters and three sculptors, a ratio unimaginable at this time in a selection representing the art of any other country.  The four Scott paintings ranged from his Still Life with Colander of 1948, via the large Still Life and the even larger Table Still Life, both of 1951 and then still unsold, to the linear, quasi-abstract black-on-white painting Seated Figure No. 1 [the present work], lent by the Martha Jackson Gallery’ (see N. Lynton, op. cit., pp. 115-116).

    William Scott’s statement for the 1955 exhibition catalogue reads: ‘For some time I felt very strongly the need to break from my too conventional arrangements in still-life painting, a conception of space and form which had its roots in the academy of the nineteenth century. I longed for a freedom from the object or perhaps it was now a desire to divide the spaces of my canvas as I felt and not merely as I knew – the insistence of the objects and their symbolic meaning, wherever I might place them within the picture plane, interfered with my new interest.  My problem was to reduce the immediacy of the individual object and to make a synthesis of ‘objects and space’ so that the new conception would be the expression of one thing and not any longer a collection of loosely related objects.  While working towards this end my paintings contain  greater or lesser degrees of statement of visual fact. Sometimes the object disappears and takes on a new meaning.  It is during this moment of transition when I feel I realise most completely my intentions. Apart from the subject, which I can do nothing about, what interests me in the beginning of a picture is the division of spaces and forms; these must be made to move and animated like a living matter.  I have a strong preference for primitive and elementary forms and I should like to combine a sensual eroticism with a starkness which will be instinctive and uncontrived. To have too clearly a conceived idea before beginning a work is for me a construction; it is in the act of making that the subject takes form, it is in the adding, stretching, taking away and searching for the right and exact statement that a tension is set up.  I am horrified at the smart brush or any too easy method of gaining effect. I want to paint what I see but never immediately: there must be a time lapse, a ‘waiting time’ for the visual experience to become involved with all other experience. That is why I paint from memory. I seem to paint the same subject whether it be still life, figure or landscape: there is no escaping, one can develop but never change it. This subject is indefinable, but it is the secret of the picture’s success or failure’.

    Sarah Whitfield in the catalogue raisonné describes Seated Figure No. 1 as an untraced work. She quotes John Russell describing a painting that could be either the present work or Seated Figure from the same date: ‘The image could be the ground plan for an apartment that could be sold in the first few minutes of its being on the market.  Nothing about it says: “This is a human body”.  Yet it spells out, irresistibly, the idea of the human body, and before long we cannot see it as anything else’.  Martha Jackson wrote to Scott on 14 March 1957 to inform him that she had sold Seated Figure No. 1 to the present owner who was ‘tremendously happy with it’ going on to say ‘Isn’t it nice to know he loves the painting more and more and that it looks so well in his house.  He is a collector who had Utrillo and much more realistic stuff.  So you converted him’ (see S. Whitfield, loc. cit.)

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    with Martha Jackson Gallery, New York, as ‘Seated Figure’, where purchased by the present owner, February 1957.

    Pre-Lot Text



    Exhibition catalogue, A.C. Ritchie (ed.), The New Decade – 22 European Painters and Sculptors, New York, Museum of Modern Art, 1955, p. 77, illustrated.
    B. Taylor, ‘The Paintings of William Scott’, ARTS, vol. 31, no. 2, November 1956, p. 38, illustrated, as ‘Figure Composition’.
    M. Jackson, letter to William Scott, 14 March 1957.
    A. Bowness, William Scott: Paintings, London, 1964, pp. 9. 34, no. 48, illustrated.
    A. Lewis, ‘British Avant Garde Painting, 1945-1956, Part I’, Artscribe, no. 34, March 1982, p. 23.
    A. Lewis, Roger Hilton, Aldershot, 2003, p. 77, note 59.
    J. Russell, ‘Prologue’, in Norbert Lynton, William Scott, London, 2004, p. 9.
    N. Lynton, William Scott, London, 2004, pp. 116, 128, 129, 130, 136, 142, pl. 69, dated 1953.
    S. Whitfield, (ed.), William Scott, Catalogue Raisonné of Oil Paintings 1952-1959, London, 2013, no. 248, pp. 100-101, illustrated.
    S. Whitfield, ‘Beyond the Frying Pan’, The Irish Arts Review, September – November 2013, p. 101, illustrated.


    New York, Martha Jackson Gallery, Younger American and European Painters, May – June 1954, no. 17, as ‘Seated Figure’.
    New York, Museum of Modern Art, The New Decade – 22 European Painters and Sculptors, May – August 1955, exhibition not numbered: this exhibition travelled to Minneapolis, Institute of Arts, September - October 1955; Los Angeles, County Museum, November 1955 - January 1956; San Francisco, Museum of Art, February - March 1956.
    New York, Martha Jackson Gallery, William Scott Paintings and Drawings, October – November 1956, no. 4, as ‘Seated Figure’.