In 1958 Scott was commissioned by Altnagelvin Hospital, a new hospital in Londonderry, to paint a huge mural, some 46 feet long by 9 feet high, a task which occupied him until 1961. This work freed him from the horizon-line and accelerated the development of a completely non-figurative style. Ronald Alley commented, 'with increasing clarification of his style and the use of a very small number of simple forms and large expanses of colour, the treatment came closer to those of American painters, like Rothko and Newman. Instead of lozenges of colour there were usually irregular variants of the square and the circle - shapes floating in surrounding areas of emptiness ... their special character came from the unpredictable, exploratory edges of the forms; from the asymmetrical compositions with their suggestions of the movement and tensions, their nearly unstable equilibrium; and from the handling of the paint itself, the contrasts of fat paint and thin paint, or areas of uniform paint texture with others which were blotched and scored and encrusted.
Though Scott has developed away from still life, the circles and rectangles in his non-figurative pictures still echo the kitchen pots and the table top. He is just as interested as ever in the division of spaces and in creating a tension between a few simple forms; his work is still that of a tonal painter, working with a restricted range of colour. Not only do certain shapes and colours (including a love of pure black and pure white) recur throughout his work, but he has always found it possible to go back to what he had done before. Perhaps most characteristic however, is Scott's blend of austerity and sensuality: the one is what saves his works from lushness, the other gives it density and richness and at times, a primitive, instinctive immediacy rare in British Art' (see R. Alley, William Scott, London, 1963, intro.).
Ashley Havinden (1903-1973), the original purchaser of Triptych, was one of the most eminent designers of his generation. He worked as the art director at the leading advertising agency W.S. Crawford Ltd., from 1922 until his retirement in 1967 and was responsible for numerous highly successful campaigns including those for Chrysler, the Milk Marketing Board, the G.P.O. and Simpson of Piccadilly.
In the 2003 exhibition catalogue, Alice Strang discusses Ashley Havinden as a collector, 'It was precisely because of his career in advertising that Ashley could afford, within limits, to collect works of art. On meeting Henry Moore in 1933, Ashley recalled: 'As much as I admired Moore's carvings, I did not see myself in those days in the role of art patron - that is to say someone who buys works of art - but as another struggling artist'. However, not long afterwards he began, from time to time, to acquire works by friends, including Hepworth, Nicholson and Piper, whom he continued to collect over several decades. After the war he embraced the work of a younger generation, including Bridget Riley and William Scott, eventually building up a significant collection of mainly twentieth-century British art.'
'In the 1930s and 1940s Ashley was part of a very small group of collectors, which included Leslie Martin and Margaret Gardiner, who recognised the importance of the work being made by the pioneers of Modernism. His acquisitions provided a much needed boost to morale and to the finances of artists then struggling to make ends meet. As Ashley met and exhibited alongside artists including John Piper, Alexander Calder and Arthur Jackson [see lots 75, 76] during the 1930s, he began to acquire works.
In the 1960s ... he bought works by the abstract artist William Scott, including an unusual painting called Triptych, 1964 [the present work]. At the same time he acquired works by old friends including Hepworth and Piper' (op. cit., pp. 83, 88). Amongst the most remarkable pieces in his collection was Barbara Hepworth's carved wood and string sculpture from 1943-4, Wave, which is in the collection of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, which also houses the Ashley Havinden Archive.
Sarah Whitfield is currently preparing the Catalogue Raisonné of works in oil by William Scott. The William Scott Foundation would like to hear from owners of any work by the artist so that these can be included in this comprehensive catalogue or in future projected catalogues. Please write to Sarah Whitfield c/o Christie's, 20th Century British Art Department, 8 King Street, London, SW1Y 6QT.