"I am an abstract artist in the sense that I abstract. I cannot be called non-figurative while I am still interested in the modern magic of space, primitive sex forms, the sensual and erotic, disconcerting contours, the things of life." (M. Toby and S. Morley, William Scott: Paintings and Drawings, London, 1998, p. 31).
Lawrence Alloway interviewed Scott in 1954, the year of his first exhibition at the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York with Francis Bacon and Barbara Hepworth. Scott had spent the previous summer teaching at Banff School of Fine Art, Universtiy of Alberta and visiting New York where he met Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline. During this critical period in which British artists were not only exploring the post-war cultural landscape in Europe but reacting to the wave of Abstract Expressionism from New York, Scott was at the forefront of this vanguard, travelling extensively in both Europe and North America.
Red Composition marks a fascinating juncture in Scott's oeuvre in which the ancient and modern collide. His early experiences of travelling and teaching in Italy and Pont Aven in the 1930s where he met Emile Bernard and Maurice Denis and his love of Pierre Bonnard are combined with his exposure to America.
In 1954 Scott visited the famous cave paintings at Lascaux in France, "... 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." (M. Toby and S. Morley, ibid.).
Through these ancient drawings Scott reconnects with the Nabis, giving Red Composition a timelessness only broken by the palpable presence of the artist through the physical marks and layering of colours, accentuated through the titles prosaicness. This synthesis of contemporary doctrines with an ancient mysticism places Scott at the forefront of modern painting in 1950s Britain, witnessed in the exhibitions held in New York, London, the Venice Biennale and uniquely Baghdad.
John Hulton, the previous owner of Red Composition, worked on the 1958 Venice Biennale at which William Scott exhibited and he would almost certainly have attended the Scott exhibition at the Hanover Gallery, London, in 1956. Hulton, having worked at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, immediately after the Second World War, joined the Fine Arts Department of the British Council in 1948 and he became Director in 1970. John Hulton and Norbert Lynton worked together on the São Paolo Biennale in 1972. Hulton also owned Blue Still Life, 1956, by William Scott that was sold in these rooms on 17th November 2006 for a then world record auction price of £590,400. Blue Still Life presently holds the second highest price at auction, eclipsed only by Bowl eggs and lemons, 1950, sold Christie's, London, 6 June 2008, lot 71, which achieved £1,071,650.