William Scott: at the Forefront of Abstraction

By: Dara Vandor


William Scott STILL LIFE (WITH FRYING PAN), 1973

William Scott’s still life is lot 5 in our Prints and Photography auction, offered online August 8-13. Depicting a frying pan, spatula, one plate, a cup and four eggs, the image is an austere almost abstract look at a simple breakfast scene. “Pots and pans” were Scott’s trademark, though he saw them as a sort of means to an end, a way to rigorously study space, form and colour. In an article for The Guardian, Paul Laity quotes Scott, who explains that his subjects “were the symbols of the life I knew best … Everyone had a frying pan.”

Through this quotidian lens, Scott created imagery halfway between figuration and abstraction. He was deeply inspired by Jean-Siméon Chardin, Henri Matisse, Paul Cézanne and Amedeo Modigliani, enamoured of a certain “careful-careless way of painting” explaining that he liked “primitive art and children’s art and the things that children scratch on walls and draw on pavements.”

In the 1950s, Scott was at the forefront of abstraction in Britain, painting celebrated nudes, landscapes and still-lifes. Wyndham Lewis wrote about Scott in The Listener: “What he has to offer is an original idea of colour; a very personal, flat, empty design, as if cut out in cardboard … His statement is always so strict, parsimonious, and dogmatically severe, that it looks even emptier than it is. He brings us his mackerel, and his marigolds, as a child just able to walk solemnly brings objects … a birdcage, or a colander … and deposits them as an offering before the attentive adult.”

Scott was born in 1913 in Greenock, Scotland. When he was 11, the family moved back to his father’s hometown of Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. Scott remembered his upbringing as “very austere.” He attended the Belfast College of Art and from there went on to study at the Royal Academy. As an artist, Scott found a large degree of success, representing Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1958. Retrospectives of his work were held at the Tate Gallery in London and the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin.

His work is held in by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, and the Art Institute of Chicago.


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