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

Four Forms, Blue on White

William Scott, R.A. (1913-1989)
Four Forms, Blue on White
signed, inscribed and dated 'FOUR FORMS/BLUE ON WHITE 1971/W. SCOTT' (on the artist's label attached to the stretcher)
oil on canvas
40 x 40 in. (101.6 x 101.6 cm.)
with Hanover Gallery, London, 1973.
Jean-Yves Mock.
His sale; Sotheby’s, London, 10 March 2005, lot 57.
with Richard Green Gallery, London.
Private collection, UK.
with Fine Art Society, London, where purchased by the present owner, 2009.
Exhibition catalogue, William Scott: Painting’s Drawings and Gouaches 1938-71, London, Tate Gallery, 1972, p. 63, no. 124, illustrated.
S. Whitfield (ed.), William Scott: Catalogue Raisonné of Oil Paintings 1969-1989, Vol. 4, London, 2013, p. 71, no. 691, illustrated.
London, Tate Gallery, William Scott: Painting’s Drawings and Gouaches 1938-71, April - May 1972, no. 124.
Milan, Galleria Falchi Arte Moderna, William Scott, October 1972, no. 12.
Special notice

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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Louise Simpson

Lot Essay

Painted in 1971, Four Forms, Blue on White depicts four subtly individual upturned semi-circles, picked out against a neutral background in striking cobalt. This work was first exhibited at Scott’s Tate retrospective: William Scott: Paintings, Drawings and Gouaches, the following year in 1972. The work was not however, returned to Scott after the exhibition and instead remained with Erica Brausen at the Hanover Gallery. It was then bequeathed to Brausen’s business partner Jean-Yves Mock and was included in his Sotheby’s sale in 2005.

Four Forms, Blue on White, speaks of Scott’s enchantment with simplicity: ‘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’ (W. Scott, quoted in A. Bowness (ed.), William Scott: Paintings, London, 1964, p. 19). The power of this work therefore lies in the dramatic simplicity of the blue forms. Scott’s brushwork unbalances the linear composition; soft layers of blue paint build tone and depth, rendering defined outlines hazy and colours dappled. This is heightened by the dramatic colour palette; as an ardent admirer of Rothko, Scott was mindful of the expressive power of stark colour, and here, the salient blue draws the observer into its depths. This blue was remarked upon by John Russell in a review of the Tate retrospective, as ‘a blue of an intensity not common in English Art’ (J. Russell, ‘Objects of Magic’, Sunday Times, 23 April 1972). The intensely fluid lines and downy paint application of these graphic shapes therefore gives Four Forms, Blue on White a sculptural quality, typical of Scott’s late oeuvre.

Scott stated that, ‘I am an abstract artist in the sense that I abstract. I cannot be non-figurative while I am still interested in the modern magic of space… the sensual and the erotic, disconcerting contours, the things of life’ (W. Scott, quoted in D. Anfam, William Scott, New York, 2010, p. 7). Scott’s interest in depicting these “things of life” stemmed from his austere childhood and early works of the utilitarian objects familiar to him. These simple motifs of kitchen crockery, became a recurring theme throughout his career, although earlier works like Kitchen Still Life (1948), resemble more traditional still life compositions. In Four Forms, Blue on White however, rough blue kitchen bowls are removed from all spatial references, and reduced to simplified beautiful forms. In this piece, Scott is caught between his interest in free abstraction and the depiction of a still life scene, creating an image in which the rough beauty of an object is reduced to a pure essence, that is almost unrecognisable in its origin.

Ronald Alley explains that every painting of Scott’s ‘is related to the last one: it may be a continuation of a previous painting or a reaction against it’ (R. Alley and T.P. Flanagan (eds.), exhibition catalogue, William Scott, Belfast, Ulster Museum, p. 24). Whereas earlier works like Black and White Forms (1953) are composed of tightly packed, angular indistinguishable skeletons structures that cut through the foreground, intersecting the canvas and dividing it into coloured zones, Four Forms, Blue on White grows out of ideas first broached in 1963 during Scott’s year in Berlin, as an artist in residence for the Ford Foundation. In response to his time there he created his Berlin Blues series; a climactic turning point in his oeuvre characterized by explorations of blank space and the adoption of the blue pigment ‘pariserblau’ (S. Whitfield, British Artists: William Scott, London, 2013, p. 76).

This freedom to explore space within the composition is most compelling. Norbert Lynton notices that in Scott’s work ‘the scale and proportions of the whole surface are asserted unambiguously, while internal tensions, set up by the objects in it, become more marked’ (N. Lynton, William Scott, London, 2004, pp. 317-318). Scott does not just paint these bowls, he muses on the divisions of space within the plain of the canvas, both filling it and emptying it with objects. Each of these objects are strangely disembodied, isolated in the vast expanse of the canvas; yet each relies on this stark contrast between its vibrant edges and the cool neutrality of the white to define its boundaries and assert its place on the ground. The compositional power of this piece therefore depends as much on negative space as it does the shapes themselves.

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