Audio: William Scott's Still Life
William Scott, R.A. (1913-1989)
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William Scott, R.A. (1913-1989)

Still Life

William Scott, R.A. (1913-1989)
Still Life
signed and dated 'W. SCOTT 51' (lower left)
oil on canvas
45¼ x 60½ in. (115 x 153 cm.)
This work is recorded in the William Scott Archive as No. 22 and will be included in the forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné of the works in oil.
Commissioned by the Arts Council of Great Britain for inclusion in the 1951 exhibition.
Seymour H. Knox Foundation, Buffalo, by whom purchased from the artist at the 1955 MoMA exhibition.
Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo.
Seymour H. Knox Foundation, Buffalo.
Property from a private American collection; Sotheby's, London, 18 June 1997, lot 117.
with Jonathan Clark Fine Art, London.
Exhibition catalogue, Festival of Britain Exhibition: 60 Paintings for '51, London, Arts Council of Great Britain, 1951, no. 45, pl. 36.
A. Clutton-Brock, 'Festival Paintings', The Times, 22 June 1951.
M.H. Middleton, 'Art', The Spectator, 3 August 1951.
Exhibition catalogue, The New Decade - 22 European Painters and Sculptors, New York, Museum of Modern Art, 1955, illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, Contemporary Art - Acquisitions 1954-1957, Buffalo, Albright Art Gallery, 1957, no. 22, illustrated.
R. Alley, William Scott, London, 1963, illustrated, not numbered. A. Bowness, William Scott: Paintings, London, 1964, pp. 8, 33, no. 22, illustrated.
J. Russell, 'William Scott. Developments in Style - III', The London Magazine, vol. 1, no. 3, June 1961, illustrated.
A. Lewis, 'British Avant Garde Paintings, 1945-1956 Part I', Artscribe, March 1982, no. 34, pp. 26-27, illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, William Scott: Paintings, Drawings and Gouaches 1938-71, London, Tate Gallery, 1972, p. 43, no. 26, illustrated.
N. Lynton, William Scott, London, 2004, pp. 85-87, 116, 136, pl. 43.
Exhibition catalogue, William Scott in Ireland. Paintings, Drawings, Gouaches and Lithographs 1938-1979, Banbridge, The F.E. McWilliam Gallery and Studio, 2009, no. 9, illustrated.
London, Arts Council of Great Britain, Arts Council Gallery, Festival of Britain Exhibition: 60 Paintings for '51, 1951, no. 45: this exhibition travelled to the provinces.
New York, Museum of Modern Art, The New Decade - 22 European Painters and Sculptors, May - August 1955, 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.
Buffalo, Albright Art Gallery, Contemporary Art - Acquisitions 1954-1957, May - June 1957, no. 22.
London, Tate Gallery, William Scott: Paintings, Drawings and Gouaches 1938-71, April - May 1972, no. 26.
Buffalo, Anderson Gallery, William Scott Memorial Exhibition, September - October 1992, no. 1.
London, Jonathan Clark Fine Art, St Ives and British Modernism, October - November 1998, no. 22.
Banbridge, The F.E. McWilliam Gallery and Studio, William Scott in Ireland. Paintings, Drawings, Gouaches and Lithographs 1938-1979, March - September 2009, no. 9.
Bangor, Ava Gallery, Clandeboye Estate, Ulster Artists, April 2010. Bangor, Ava Gallery, Clandeboye Estate, Ulster Artists, February - March 2011.

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Lot Essay

Sixty years ago William Scott was commissioned by the Arts Council to contribute to an exhibition that would be a major part of the 1951 Festival of Britain. This was planned to celebrate the centenary of London's 1851 Great Exhibition and intended to demonstrate the nation's renewed vigour after years of danger and deprivation. The Arts Council invited sixty painters to prepare large works for an exhibition which was to be displayed at the Arts Council Gallery in St James's Square before touring the country, concurrent with the South Bank's display (N. Lynton, op. cit., p. 85). The pictures were required to be no smaller than forty-five by sixty inches, and the artists were given expenses to cope with this requirement as well as a fee. The Council hoped that commercial and municipal purchasers would come forward so that these substantial paintings would end up in public places (P. James, exhibition catalogue, Festival of Britain Exhibition: 60 Paintings for '51, op. cit., foreword).

The current painting was Scott's contribution to the exhibition. The scale stipulation forced Scott to command a picture surface more than four times the area of his previous still lifes and the resultant painting is constructed with unusual deliberation. The larger shapes seem flat and yet at the same time hint at perspective. The right edge of the table runs into the picture as if tracing a line to the composition's vanishing point and the objects shown on it also suggest some perspective. The bowl, which stands on the table's far edge, is the exception to this and reasserts the sense of flatness. A tall window, on the right, has horizontal divisions that echo and sometimes extend the lines of the tabletop and its legs suggesting flat abstract geometry, yet some of the legs cast shadow indicating space. The dark large shape below the table is also read as a shadow, again implying, but not giving the feeling of depth (N. Lynton, op. cit., p. 87).

The objects on the table are familiar, and their placement seems straightforward at first glance. But the vertical arrangement on the left - the bowl, the two eggs in the frying pan, the two legs below them - can suggest, 'a standing female figure where the two eggs in the pan seem to be the breasts and the fork a hand touching them' (A. Bowness, William Scott: Painting, London, 1964, p. 8). Lynton extends this reading and suggests that the handle of the frying pan can be viewed as a phallus penetrating the oval plate, which symbolises an egg or womb. While such readings were not made by contemporary critics visiting the Festival of Britain Exhibition, Scott's own comments on the painting add weight to such analysis. He said, 'Behind the face of pots and pans there is sometimes another image - it's a private one, ambiguous, and can perhaps be sensed rather than seen. This image which I can't describe animates my forms. It's the secret in the picture' (Scott quoted in ibid, p. 8). Scott was fascinated by 'the modern magic of space, primitive sex forms, the sensual and the erotic, disconcerting contours, the things of life' (Scott quoted in N. Lynton, op. cit., p. 8). At the heart of the appreciation of this painting is recognition of an erotic, sensual undercurrent as a foil to the austere subject and composition.

Despite being a key work of Scott's career, Still Life did not gain a prize at the Festival of Britain Exhibition. It was bought for the Seymour H. Knox Foundation in Buffalo and subsequently entered the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. In 1955 it was included in the influential show, The New Decade, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (N. Lynton, op. cit., p. 85).

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