Where purchased by Richard Davis, New York, 8 September 1970;
Thence by descent to the previous owner;
Christie's, 16 November 2007, lot 72;
with Richard Green, London, 2008;
Collection of George and Maura McClelland
Scott was, however, continuing to innovate, and the New York show comprised recent works taking his interests to a new level of resolution, including those like Blue Still Life eloquently employing the "rich Mediterranean blues" that had become a signature dimension of his work. Kramer perceptively summarized the paintings in the exhibition as "abstractions based mainly on still-life motifs." While Scott had addressed other subjects from time to time over the years, including landscape, portraiture and the nude, still life was the enduring thematic interest for the artist from an early stage and throughout his career. He asserted his preference for man-made objects over nature, and the contours of still life were interesting in themselves as well as providing a significant basis for his evolving propensity towards abstraction.
They were reminiscent also of the domestic environment of his working class origins; as he explained "the objects I painted were the symbols of the life I knew best."(2)
Born in Greenock, Scotland in 1913, Scott moved with his family to his father's native Enniskillen in 1924. Initially he learned the skills of sign-writing from his father and attended art classes with Kathleen Bridle who introduced him to Modernist art and to the writings of Roger Fry that would resonate with Scott, not least in highlighting the importance of representing familiar objects over more narrative-based subject matter. Later, Scott went to the Belfast School of Art and then the Royal Academy Schools in London. Following his marriage, he and his wife, artist Mary Lucas, spent time on the Continent - including to Mediterranean towns in the south of France - travelling, seeing art and teaching, before returning to Britain where he later took up a role at the Bath Academy of Art. Scott became a regular visitor to St Ives, and knew many of the artists there. In 1953, a visit to New York brought him into contact with Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.
While in Paris with his wife, Scott saw his first Matisse painting, a still life with drapery that entranced him reflecting a burgeoning interest and the direction his own work was to take.(3) On a later visit to Paris, in 1946, Scott was captivated by the exhibition A Thousand Years of Still Life Painting, where he "was overwhelmed by the fact that the subject had hardly changed for a thousand years, and yet each generation in turn expressed its own period and feelings and time within this terribly limited narrow range of the still life."(4) While his earliest still life paintings are the most naturalistic, Scott's interest in stylization and in abstracting are evident throughout his career as a painter; his focus on the structure and contours of composition and forms predominate over illusionism and mimesis, demonstrating his interest in primitivist forms and an austere aesthetic. The clustered still life objects of the late 1950s increasingly gave way to abstraction evolving to the celebrated Berlin Blues series in the mid 1960s. In the words of Clive Bell, Scott evinced a "truly remarkable gift of placing",(5) a capacity that became especially evident as Scott pioneered the representation of ordinary subjects on large canvases, with an almost classical presence, as in the commanding scale of Blue Still Life.
The late still lifes, as this work demonstrates, comprise emblems on the cusp of abstraction; the familiar contours of utensils are distilled to pure flat forms dispersed on the canvas in a finely tuned arrangement, remote from the practical groupings of the kitchen from which they once derived. Mitigating their potential asceticism, however, Scott had expressed a desire "to animate a still life in the sense that one could animate a figure. I chose my objects … objects without much glamour"(6) indicating their humble origins and enduring personal relevance. His achievement is reflected in Kramer's comments in his New York Times review that Scott "invests this radically delimited imagery with a distinct mode of feeling" explaining that while highly simplified, the works evoke a "remarkable poetic resonance … and suggest a very personal emotional atmosphere."
In Blue Still Life, the soft blurring of the familiar contours and the 'haloes' around selected objects balance the cool austerity of uncluttered space, the sparsely populated kitchen repertoire of the working class household in interwar cities. But there is no sense of deprivation, and the image 'breathes' with the space of sufficiency rather than indulgence. Close inspection shows too the flecks and drizzles of paint that, far from the machine aesthetic of Minimalism, reveal the handcraft of construction, abstraction animated by reality. Kramer appropriately summarized the 1973 show that included this painting. (7)
"This is a beautiful exhibition, full of wonderful painterly subtleties and the kind of pictorial eloquence we would expect only from a mature artist in complete control of his medium."
Dr Yvonne Scott, May 2017
(1) Hilton Kramer, 'Painterly Subtleties Fill Work of Scott', New York Times, 6 January, 1973, p.25. The show was at the Martha Jackson Gallery, New York early in 1973 to mark the artist's sixtieth birthday.
(2) Lawrence Alloway, Nine Abstract Artists, their work and theory, London 1954, p.37, quoted in Norbert Lynton, William Scott, London 2007, p.30.
(3) Norbert Lynton, William Scott (year), p.23.
(4) Alan Bowness, 1964, quoted in Lynton, p.61.
(5) Clive Bell, quoted in Lynton, p.42.
(6) William Scott, quoted by Theo Crosby, 1957, reproduced in Lynton, p.76.
(7) Kramer, op.cit.
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