Scott’s paintings are firmly rooted in the traditions of nude, landscape and still life, although many works blur the lines between these established compositions; for example a painting of a table with a coffee pot can closely resemble the monumental torso with a small head seen in another. He said, ‘It seems I paint the same subject whether it be still life, figure or landscape’
Despite Scott’s associations with the American abstract expressionists, Rothko, De Kooning and Pollock Scott insisted his work remained rooted in a European style, influenced by Bonnard, Matisse and Cezanne, all of whom were masters of still life. Scott’s still life paintings depict functional objects which would have been amongst the few possessions of his family and those around him during his early life. He said, ‘I was brought up in a grey world, an austere world: the garden I knew was a cemetery and we had no fine furniture. The objects I painted were the symbols of the life I knew best’.
Scott’s familiar household objects stayed in his painting, becoming simplified into plain, recognisable shapes such as the frequently included black frying pan (which he compared to Braque’s guitar) and this jug. Scott explained, ‘I find beauty in plainness, in a conception that is precise’. The jug was one of these objects and featured in many still lifes. This painting is from a series of twenty-six works (on smaller canvases than usual), all titled Poem for a Jug, which were shown at Gimpel Fils Gallery in London in 1980. The series explored the jug as both an outline and a solid shape in a palette of earthy terracottas, creamy whites and vibrant dark blues. Art Historian Norbert Lynton commented that ‘Minimalism of a fairly extreme sort here yields lavish result’. The jug was not alone in becoming the subject of such a series; following a warm and fruitful summer in Somerset in 1976 Scott found himself producing a series of seventeen works titled An Orchard of Pears.
This painting was purchased by the Jerwood Foundation in 2008 and exhibited in the major Scott exhibition Divided Figure at Jerwood Gallery, Hastings in 2013.
oil on canvas
9 ¾ x 12 in. (24.7 x 30.5 cm.)
with Gimpel Fils, May 1980.
with Gallery Kasahara, Osaka, December 1980.
Anonymous Sale; Christie’s, London, 12 December 2008, lot 9, where purchased.
London, Gimpel Fils, Poem for a Jug, May – June 1980, no. 4 (illustrated in black and white on the invitation card for this exhibition).
Osaka, Gallery Kasahara, William Scott, October 1980, no. 2.
Divided Figure- William Scott’ 27 April- 10 July 2013
Sarah Whitfield (ed.) and Lucy Inglis (associate ed.), William Scott Catalogue Raisonné of Oil Paintings , Volume 4, London, 2013, cat. no.875, p. 260, illustrated in colour.
Collection Catalogue, Jerwood Collection, London 2012 p.34.
Scott was born in Greenock, Scotland, the eldest boy in a family of eleven children, and his family moved to Enniskillen in Northern Ireland in 1922 His father was a sign painter whose death Scott tragically witnessed at the age of 14. Scott’s initial interest in art was encouraged by his art teacher Kathleen Bridle and he studied at Belfast College of Art (1928-30) and then won a scholarship to the Royal Academy Schools, London, where he studied sculpture and painting (1931-35). He married fellow student, Mary Lucas in 1937 and they travelled to Italy and France, where Scott established an art school at Pont-Aven in Brittany with Geoffrey Nelson the following year. When World War II broke out the Scotts returned to England and settled in Somerset.
During the war Scott served for a time with the Royal Engineers as a lithographic draughtsman and afterwards Scott took up a teaching post at the Bath Academy of Art (1946-56). During this time he spent his summers in Cornwall where he formed close friendships with the St Ives group of artists. Scott’s work had already been included in some key group shows and solo shows had been held at the Leger Gallery, London (1942 and 1945) and the Leicester Galleries (1948 and 1951), however it was his inclusion in the Festival of Britain exhibition in 1951, organised by the Arts Council, that brought him to the public’s attention.
In 1953 Scott visited the United States, where he met Pollock, Kline, De Kooning and Rothko (with whom he formed a lasting friendship). Scott represented Britain at the 1958 Venice Biennale and his work was shown extensively nationally and internationally during his lifetime. He was elected Sociétaire du Salon D’Automne, Paris (1938) and RA (1984). Since his death in 1989, solo exhibitions have been seen at Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (1998) and Denise Bibro Gallery, New York (2004).
In 2013, the centenary year of Scott’s birth, Jerwood Gallery, Hastings, presented the exhibition William Scott: Divided Figure. Also in that year a major retrospective was shown at Tate St Ives, and toured to Hepworth Wakefield and the Ulster Museum in Belfast.