Archive Blog – July 2015

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Mary Scott

Happy Birthday Mary Scott!

By Lucy Inglis on 7 July 2015

7 July marks the anniversary of the birth of Mary, William Scott’s wife. Muse, mother, wife, secretary, hostess – while it is true that she performed all of these roles with grace and skill, the picture we have of Mary too often ignores her own work as an artist. Up until the late 1950s, Mary herself was a practising artist and art teacher, often working in partnership with her husband. Primarily a sculptor, her watercolours and drawings reveal her skill also as a draughtsman. Unfortunately not all of her sculptures survive, but enough do to get a sense of her work; they show a sensitive understanding of the work of Picasso, Matisse, Degas and Ingres, as well as that of closer contemporaries such as Kenneth Armitage and Reg Butler. Yet, as Norbert Lynton surmised, her work, ‘though in many ways redolent of sculptural adventures of her time, has its own character and qualities of style and meaning.’ Trained in the classical tradition, her focus tended to be the female figure. Often working on a small scale, there is tenderness and humanity, even at times a sense of humour, evident in her depictions of women.

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Hilda Mary Scott was born on 7 July 1912 at 30 St. John’s Road, Clifton, in Bristol. Mary (she was always known by her middle name) and William met while they were both students at the Royal Academy Schools in London in the early 1930s. Although by the time Mary enrolled at the RA in 1934 William was in the Painting School, he frequently dropped into the Sculpture School to see his friend William Tocher. Mary later recalled of those early days: ‘I remember so well, he had a baggy pair of flannel trousers with the bottoms all frayed, where he had cut them off. He used to buy his clothes in the Caledonian Market, off the Euston Road but there was something about him that remained in my mind. I see now from early drawings that he was really very good looking tho’ very slight, just 5ft 4 and about 7 stone with twinkling blue eyes! But a very pale complexion.’

At the 1937 annual RA prize giving, Mary won the silver medal awarded by the Edward Stott Architectural Prize for her model of a doorway with two relief sculptures; when she left the RA Schools later that same year she was granted a Landseer scholarship. In December 1937 she and William, recently married, moved to France where they set up an art school; Mary taught drawing and sculpture, William painting. After the Second World War, Mary resumed teaching, again alongside her husband, this time at the Bath Academy of Art at Corsham Court in Wiltshire. Seen as an artist in her own right, Mary’s work was included in mixed exhibitions in the 1940s and 1950s, for example Watercolours and Drawings by William and Mary Scott at the Leger Galleries in 1945, the Women’s International Art Club’s Jubilee exhibition in 1950 and Contemporary Sculpture at the Hanover Gallery in 1956. The two sculptures she exhibited at the Hanover show caught the attention of the critic for the Times who, reviewing the works on display, wrote: ‘Many of the works are gay, light-hearted inventions–sculptural bibelots of a decorative and fantastic description. But there are also some important new bronze figures and objects by Mr. William Turnball and by Mr. Eduardo Paolozzi, and two elegant figurines by Miss Mary Scott.’ Nevertheless, only a couple of years later, Mary decided to stop working as an artist to support her husband’s career (she had always been aware of his talent, signing up to a press cuttings agency as early as the 1930s). A few years after she ceased to sculpt, William uttered a most telling comment about his wife, ‘Mary always wears the right clothes for my paintings.’ Instead of working alongside her husband, Mary had become subsumed within his working life.

It is thanks to Mary’s diligence and care that the archive material we now have relating to William was gathered together and kept safe. It is only fitting that she be given the recognition she deserves, as an artist as well as a wife.

For more information contact:
Lucy Inglis – lucy.inglis@williamscott.org

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Hanover Gallery, 1956 exhibition catalogue

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Standing Figure