William Scott 1913 - 1989


The Artist

Galeria Lorenzelli, Bergamo
Private Collection, Italy


Bergamo, Galeria Lorenzelli, W.Scott, February 1978

Milan, Lorenzelli Arte, William Scott, La Voce dei Colori, 17 March - 7 May 2005, cat no.19, illus colour (titled Composition, 1960)


ed. Sarah Whitfield, William Scott, Catalogue Raisonné of Oil Paintings 1960-1968, Volume 3, Thames and Hudson, London, 2013, cat no.461, illus colour p64


The decade preceding the creation of Untitled, 1960, proved to be an interesting and important period in Scott’s artistic development. Commentators on his work have recognised two significant phases during the 1950s in which Scott developed a definite ‘abstract’ language. The first phase dates roughly from 1952-1954 and the origins of the second phase can be traced back to 1959, just two years before Scott painted this work.

Whilst Scott did not reject this ‘language’ in the interceding years, a wealth of influences and considerations came into play; ancient and primitive art, the artist’s contact with American Abstraction Expressionism on a trip to the United States in 1953 and subsequently a return to the European tradition of the still life, and a more representational style enriched by what he had seen. This meant that Scott’s paintings from 1954 to 1959 present a varied vocabulary of artistic concerns. One might surmise that the 1950s represent a period of exploration which begins to find a coherent voice in the early 1960s with works such as Untitled 1960.

Speaking in 1955, Scott outlined his artistic concerns as follows,

‘I longed for the freedom of the object, or perhaps it was now a desire to divide the spaces of my canvas as I felt, and not merely as I knew - the insistence of the object and their symbolic meaning, wherever I might place them within the picture plane, interfered with my new interest. My problem was to reduce the immediacy of the individual and to make a synthesis of ‘objects and space’ so that the new conception would be the expression of one thing and not any longer a collection of loosely related objects.

Sometimes the object disappears and takes on a new meaning. It is during this moment of transition that when I feel I realize most completely my intentions. Apart from the subject, which I can do nothing about, what interests me in the beginning of a picture is the division of spaces and forms; these must be made to move and be animated like living matter. I have a strong preference for primitive and elementary forms and I should like to combine a sensual eroticism with a starkness which will be instinctive and uncontrived.’ 1.

By the early 1960s, the physicality of a picture becomes paramount in Scott’s work. One of the most significant formal developments during the 1950s and into the 1960s is the textured and varied treatment of the picture’s surface. As Scott explains,

‘The actual touch and the way I put paint on canvas matters very much, I am extremely interested in textural qualities - the thick paint, the thin paint, the scratched lines, the almost careful-careless way in which a picture’s painted…I don’t like a picture painted with a too slick, too efficient technique- painting with too much know how.’ 2.

As Scott’s pictorial language becomes simpler, formal considerations come to the fore. Surfaces tend to become more voluptuous, encapsulating the, ‘…sensual eroticism…’ that Scott desired. In Untitled, 1960, paint is applied in an encrusted impasto, which is particularly visible around the outline of the forms, imbuing them with an irregular and more organic quality ‘as if Scott had breathed into them…’ 3.

In Untitled, 1960, Scott plays artfully with scale. The original source for the painting would have been an arrangement of objects on a tabletop. This original source has become highly abstracted and the perspective has been tipped forward so that it becomes a flattened view. Forms appear to have been zoomed in on and the canvas feels as if it has been cropped at the edges. One can no longer read this composition literally, the darkest form which Scott allows to dominate, suggests that it might represent many things but confirms nothing. The overall effect of this ‘abstract’ language is that the work is read intuitively. One reacts to the painting’s formal values; the contrasting tonal areas, the irregular shapes and thickly applied paint as opposed to the picture’s subject.

The act of painting, and the painting itself, becomes a matter of feeling tempered by the artist’s desire for balance and harmony. ‘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.’ 4. Untitled communicates Scott's dialect of austerity and sensuality.

1. The New Decade Exhibition, edited by A.C. Ritchie, Museum of Modern Art, 1955, repro. Alan Bowness, William Scott: Paintings, Lund Humphries and Co, London, 1964, p20

2. Alan Bowness, William Scott: Paintings, Lund Humphries and Co, London, 1964, p11

3. Ronald Alley, William Scott, Methuen, London, 1963, unpaginated

4. Alan Bowness, William Scott: Paintings, Lund Humphries and Co, London, 1964, p11