William Scott

TABLE STILL LIFE

TABLE STILL LIFE

1951 William Scott (1913 − 1989)

The lighter space in this painting’s lower foreground looks like the back of a chair being offered to the viewer. If you took it, it would perhaps be on the understanding that you didn’t move anything: with a subtle, appealing order, the edge of the napkin lines up to the edge of a pan, and, in polite table talk, the left blue container peeks into the darkness to mirror the amount that the grey shape – a cereal box? – leans into the space of the table.

Though the blue bottle, for example, is an abstract shape, its paint reproduces clearly the sensation of looking into dark glass refracting the surrounding gloom and cutlery. There may be hints to this in a talk Scott gave in 1955, describing his technique:

“I want to paint what I see but never immediately; there must be a time lapse, a “waiting time” for the visual experience to become involved with all other experience. That is why I paint from memory.” [1]

These different areas of colour soon appear to be sides, tops or bottoms, flattened for the sake of the overall image, and the idea of “foreground” and “background” starts to become less certain. “That's one of the things I've always done”, Scott explained whilst discussing this painting in 1961:

“For me the picture plane should never be destroyed. All kinds of pictures that I like in the world seem to be flat […] I like the Byzantines, I like the early Italians, and then there are great gaps in my liking of painting until we come to Cezanne. […]The things in the picture now make a complete whole, and the final image is the picture itself, not the things that have been painted.”[2]

This owes something to the example of the “primitive” Cornish painter Alfred Wallis, who sized objects according to how important he – rather than the academic laws of perspective – thought they should be. The two painters often also share a sense of practicality, and this table looks handmade, its roughly-hewn legs spindly but solid enough to suspend it in the black-grey void space.

The space is also uneven and hand-made, scratched and sketched out with the expressive haste of a draughtsman who has decided the fact of the area’s colour, and filled it quickly and impatiently before moving on. But it is because of this scratched surface that the space seems to shift and shimmer slightly, as does remembered, non-painterly darkness.

The painting follows on from the Still Life Scott which represented Scott at the Festival of Britain, and represents a period in which Norbert Lynton saw him

“simplifying his pictorial idiom, reducing the role of colour and emphasizing the function of area division and of paint texture. This brought him close to abstraction in paintings and to complete abstraction in others of 1951-2.”[3]

From the humble background of which he was so proud, it also brought him to the first rank of art-world celebrities. On seeing the next year’s paintings, Lynton reports, the actress Ingrid Bergman exclaimed

“these paintings have a … have a … positively animal vitality!”[4]

Tom Overton, 2010.

[1] Scott, The New Decade: 22 European Painters and Sculptors [exh. cat.](NY:MOMA, 1955), pp.74-5.
[2] Scott with Martin Attwood, Script for Recorded Illustrated Lecture [Held in British Council Visual Arts Library, 1961].
[3] Norbert Lynton, William Scott (London: Phaidon, 2004), p.464
[4] Lynton, p.204.

  • Accession Number P296
  • Dimensions 142 X 183 CM
  • Media OIL ON CANVAS

Glossary (2)

  • Abstraction

    To abstract means to remove, and in the art sense it means that artist has removed or withheld references to an object, landscape or figure to produce a simplified or schematic work. This method of creating art has led to many critical theories; some theorists considered this the purest form of art: art for art’s sake. Unconcerned as it is with materiality, abstraction is often considered as representing the spiritual.

  • Painting

    Work of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is a tightly stretched piece of canvas, paper or a wooden panel. Painting involves a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's intellectual concerns effecting the content of a work.

Work Theme

Past exhibitions

WILLIAM SCOTT

  • 2013
    • Ireland, Belfast, Ulster Museum
    • UK, The Hepworth Wakefield
    • UK, St Ives, Tate St Ives

LET US FACE THE FUTURE: ART BRITÀNIC 1945-1968

  • 2010
    • Spain, Barcelona, Fundacio Joan Miro

BLAST TO FREEZE: BRITISCHE KUNST IM 20. JAHRHUNDERT

  • 2003
    • France, Toulouse, Les Abattoirs
  • 2002
    • Germany, Wolfsburg Kunstmuseum

THE NATURE OF STILL LIFE FROM MANET TO THE PRESENT DAY

  • 2001
    • Italy, Bologna, Galleria D'arte Moderna

THE FIFTIES

  • 1999
    • Spain, Jerez, Sala Pescaderia Vieja, Ayunamiento De Jerez
    • Spain, Barcelona, Centre Cultural De La Caixa De Terrassa
    • Spain, Salamanca, Palacio De Abrantes
    • Netherlands, Amstelveen, Cobra Museum
    • Spain, Pamplona, Recinto Ciudadela
    • Spain, La Coruna, Fondacion Barrie De La Maza
  • 1998
    • Ireland, Dublin, Royal Hibernian Academy
  • 1997
    • Cyprus, Nicosia, Nicosia Municipal Arts Centre

WILLIAM SCOTT STILL LIFE PAINTINGS 1946-1978

  • 1979
    • Ireland, Belfast, Arts Council Gallery
    • UK, London, Orchard Gallery
    • Ireland, Fermanagh County Museum

CORSHAM PAINTERS AND SCULPTORS

  • 1965
    • UK, Middlesborough Art Gallery
    • UK, Cambridge, Arts Council Gallery
    • UK, Walsall, Walsall Art Gallery
    • UK, Sheffield, Graves Art Gallery
    • UK, Totnes, Dartington College Of Art

PROFILE III ENGLISCHE KUNST DER GEGENWART

  • 1964
    • Germany, Bochum, Stadtische Kunstgalerie

WILLIAM SCOTT

  • 1963
    • Ireland, Belfast, Ulster Museum

VICTOR PASMORE / WILLIAM SCOTT

  • 1963
    • Switzerland, Berne, Kunsthalle

ARTE BRITANICA NO SECULO XX

  • 1962
    • Portugal, Lisbon, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation

BRITISH PAINTING 1720-1960

  • 1960
    • Russia, St Petersburg, The Hermitage
    • Russia, Moscow, Pushkin Museum Of Fine Arts

XXIX VENICE BIENNALE

  • 1959
    • Netherlands, Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen
    • Switzerland, Zurich, Kunsthaus
    • Belgium, Brussels, Palais Des Beaux-Arts De Bruxelles
    • Germany, Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum
  • 1958
    • France, Paris, Musee D'art Moderne De La Ville De Paris
    • Italy, Venice, British Pavilion

NEW DECADE: 22 EUROPEAN PAINTERS AND SCULPTORS

  • 1956
    • USA, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum
    • USA, San Francisco, Fine Arts Museum Of San Fransico
  • 1955
    • USA, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Institue of Art
    • USA, New York, Museum Of Modern Art

1953 SAO PAULO BIENAL

  • 1953
    • Brazil, Sao Paulo, Museu De Arte Moderna

WILLIAM SCOTT

  • 1953
    • UK, London, Hanover Gallery
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