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

Reclining Nude

William Scott, R.A. (1913-1989)
Reclining Nude
oil on canvas
34 x 44 in. (86.6 x 111.8 cm.)
Painted in 1956.
This work is recorded in the William Scott Archive as No. 332.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 8 June 2001, lot 154, as '4th Composition'.
with Austin Desmond Fine Art, London, where purchased by the present owner.
N. Lynton, William Scott, London, 2004, p. 151, as 'Fourth Composition (Nude), 1955', illustrated.
S. Whitfield (ed.), William Scott: Catalogue Raisonné of Oil Paintings, Volume 2: 1952-1959, London, 2013, p. 176, no. 316, illustrated.

Hastings, Jerwood Gallery, William Scott: Divided Figure, April - July 2013, exhibition not numbered.
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Lot Essay

‘I have no theory. I am not concerned only with “space construction”. What matters to me in a picture is the “indefinable”’ (W. Scott, quoted in, L. Alloway, Nine Abstract Artists, London, 1954).

Painted in 1956 Reclining Nude forms part of a series of figure paintings that Scott executed between 1953 and 1957. His visit to New York in 1953 and travels through France and Spain the following year, compelled him to assess the seismic shift in painting taking place across the Atlantic from a European art historical perspective.

In 1953 Scott spent the summer teaching at Banff School of Fine Art, University of Alberta. He travelled to New York where he was introduced by Martha Jackson to Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline. The huge, energetic abstracts and the artists that created them inspired Scott to look afresh. ‘My Impression at first was bewilderment, it was not the originality of the works, but it was the scale, audacity and self-confidence – something had happened to painting’ (W. Scott, quoted in interview with A. Bowness, exhibition catalogue, William Scott: Paintings Drawings and Gouaches 1938-71, London, Tate Gallery, 1972, p. 71).

Although the sheer scale and boldness of the New York School artists impressed Scott and certainly energised his desire to explore new formats, he realised that these painters came from a different artistic lineage, stating that, 'There’s a whole tradition, the descent from Chardin through Cézanne to Braque and Bonnard, which has no part in their painting, and that’s the tradition I’ve always held to’ (W. Scott quoted in, N. Lynton, William Scott, London, 2004, p. 7). Scott resolved to explore what he had seen in the United States but from the perspective of the European tradition that he had grown up in. This particularly resonated with him as he explored the female nude as a subject, as figure painting had played a major part in his training at the Royal Academy Schools. Scott explained, ‘Continual figure painting made me aware of the great paintings of nudes. The pictures I had in mind amongst the Old Masters were Cranach, Titian, Giorgione, Goya, Boucher, and among later paintings, Corot, Manet, Gaugin, Modigliani, Bonnard and Matisse’ (W. Scott, quoted in op. cit., p. 65).

Conscious of his European traditions he particularly admired Pierre Bonnard’s The Bath, painted in 1925, that hung in the Tate Gallery, so much so he commissioned a young painter called Joan Gee to produce a full-sized copy which he hung in his home.

The year after returning from Banff, Scott visited the famous cave paintings at Lascaux in France, which were to have a great impact on his work. He recalled, ‘On my way to Spain in 1954 I went to see the Lascaux Caves, and my experience of these terrific drawings helped me to rethink what art was about. It renewed my earlier interest in primitivism, and set me on a new course’ (W. Scott, quoted in ibid., p. 70).

The simplistic boldness of these pre-historic drawings spoke to Scott and drew him back to Bonnard and the Nabis group. One can see this influence in Reclining Nude, which has a timelessness, broken only by the palpable presence of the artist through the physical marks and the layering of paint. Reclining Nude is simultaneously new and ancient, abstract and representational. The figure has emerged from the deep rustic red background and floats on the surface of the work. Ephemeral yet timeless. She has existed for centuries yet is contemporary. Indeed she is “Indefinable”.

We are very grateful to the William Scott Foundation for their assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.

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