Publication paints an unrivalled insight into William Scott life story

14 December 2013

A publication that will now be kept at Fermanagh County Museum gives unrivalled insight into the life and work of an Enniskillen painter who became one the most internationally celebrated artists of 20th century to come from this part of the world.

The Catalogue Raisonné of the work of William Scott is the result of twenty years of research and seven years’ writing. It charts the remarkable story of William Scott’s career during which he painted more than one thousand works in oil. In the art market, Scott’s work is hot property, commanding significant sums.

The four volume publication has been presented to the Museum by Scott’s sons, Robert and James Scott, and Sarah Whitfield, the book’s editor.

The first volume gives fascinating insight into the role Enniskillen played in the young Scott’s life.

The town was the place where Scott was to meet a terrible tragedy of childhood but also a place that gave him his future.

It was the place where his father met a terrible death but it was also thanks to the people of Enniskillen — including the then proprietor of this newspaper — that the teenage Scott was given financial support to study art in Belfast.

The Catalogue Raisonné charts that William George Scott was born at 24 Tobago Street, Greenock, Scotland at 1am on February 15, 1913. His father’s family came from Donegal but his father, William John Scott, had been born at 6 Forthill Street, Enniskillen in 1887. His father was a painter (journeyman). Scott recalled of him: “A hobby he was dedicated to was painting, views of Greenock from postcards but enlarging them, they were admired by his friends . . . I hoped that one day I might become a great painter like him.”

Work was scarce in Greenock and with a large family, his father decided to return to his hometown of Enniskillen, leaving his wife Agnes to bring the family to settle. Scott recalled that talk of the return was not welcomed by his mother. Ten of them travelled by cattle boat to Derry and then got a train to Enniskillen, arriving on Market Day. The family first stayed at Forthill with his grandfather John Scott.

He recalled memorable days in Enniskillen were market days which were held once a month and the whole town awaited the arrival of farmers and cattle.

He looked back at the hiring days every few months when servant girls sought new masters and mistresses and the twelfth of July “a spectacular performance that Catholic or Protestant could not fail to appreciate”.

He described the handpainted banners as having “some kind of crude theatrical tribal beauty”.

And funeral processions where “a strong respect for the dead was a strong feature of life”.

He realised “we were in a religious dominated and divided society”.

His family attended the Enniskillen Presbyterian Church and sat at the pew behind the Trimble family, owners of The Impartial Reporter.

Scott enrolled in the National Model School. By 1926 the family had moved to live at Queen Street as his father’s reputation as a painter and decorator had grown. “The schoolmaster was interested in my drawing and suggested that I should ask a young lady art teacher in Enniskillen to take up a teaching post for advice. I went to see her and she proposed that I should join evening classes. My father was delighted that she would give me private lessons for free. That young art teacher was Kathleen Bridle”. Scott joined her for art classes at Enniskillen Technical College. He was a quick learner. Kathleen Bridle recalled that you never had to tell him anything twice. He recalled: “Amongst the events in the course of my career as a painter, I consider this first meeting with Kathleen Bridle to be one of the most significant an event that was to shape and influence my future”.

A terrible event was to change the Scott family’s lives forever on November 4, 1927.

William John Scott died the day after falling from a ladder while helping to put out a fire at Kirkpatrick Brothers on Church Street in Enniskillen. He had just started a company and had drafted a painted sign announcing “Scott and Sons”. Agnes was pregnant with their eleventh child. An unidentified newspaper cutting from the time stated that William Scott volunteered to climb the ladder with the hose. Patrick Tyre followed him, helping with the hose. When Scott and Tyre were about 40 feet up, it was noticed the ladder was swaying frighteningly. There was a crack and the ladder snapped in two, like a piece of matchboard and Scott was pitched into the middle of the street with a sickening thud.”

James, William Scott’s son, remembers his father had a fear of fire all his life.

The funeral took place the following Sunday and Scott’s artistic talent was mentioned in the address.

Scott spoke about his father’s death in a television film. “His violent death in Enniskillen is something I try to shut out of my mind. If the policeman had not pushed the crowds away, they would have broken his fall”.

Kathleen Bridle had said: “He was a little man and they said he was passing on the way to work. Part of Patrick’s was on fire and they said to him to go up the ladder, you see, he was light to go up the ladder and carry the hose pipe with him, and in the excitement, and I think this story is true, the water was turned on too quickly and he was just hurled off the ladder and killed.”

Artist TP Flanagan is also quoted: “The tragedy is the person he was saving was saved eventually. He need not have gone up at all.”

An appeal for funds for the children of the deceased was issued and subscriptions had been already received. His mother got £600 under the Workman’s Compensation Act. With £400 to divide between her children, she was left with £200.

Kathleen Bridle recalled: “What really happened was that after his father was killed, I had a deputation of gentlemen, the Dean of Clougher and the Presbyterian Minister and William Copeland Trimble [proprietor of The Impartial Reporter]. They were going to give him [Scott] money. There were no scholarships”.

The County Fermanagh Education committee gave him a grant for no more than three years to attend Belfast School of art. He was 15 years old.

In Belfast, he left a strong impression on his fellow student, May Stevenson. “I remember him painting big still lifes of fishes and birds. He was an outstanding student at Belfast College of Art. He did what everyone else did but only a lot better.”

There was to be more tragedy for the Scott family in those years however. His younger sister Violet died on June 5, 1930, after a fit of convulsions brought on by whooping cough.

William Scott’s early life in Enniskillen is just one small section of the Raisonné, which covers Scott’s life from 1913 to 1989.

Scott’s sons have presented the work to the museum on the occasion of the centenary of their father’s birth.

Sarah McHugh, Manager of Museum Services, said: “I am delighted that the Scott family has donated the Catalogue Raisonné to Fermanagh County Museum. It enhances the already impressive collection of William Scott art works within the Museum collections. In fact. all the Museums’s collection of oil paintings feature throughout the Catalogue Raisonné.

“The Museum is holding its final phase of successful exhibition and art project Full Circle when local children visit the William Scott exhibition in the Ulster Museum. The visit has been generously made possible by the Scott family.”

To read the article on The Impartial Reporter‘s website please click here.