Artwork of the Month - October 2014

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An Orchard of Pears, No. 6, 1976 or 1877

An Orchard of Pears, No. 6
1976 or 1977
Oil on canvas
74.5 x 92.2 cm / 29¼ x 36¼ in
Signed and dated verso W. SCOTT 77
Private collection

With a chill in the air and the nights drawing in, it feels like autumn, finally, has arrived. It seemed appropriate, therefore, to focus this month on Scott’s fascination with one of the season’s tastiest offerings – pears. Fruit, that mainstay of the still-life genre, had long featured in Scott’s oeuvre; apples, plums, lemons and grapes, as well as pears, make their appearance in his paintings from the mid-1930s onwards. In 1976, however, the pear as a central theme came, for a brief period, to dominate Scott’s output. William and his wife Mary spent most of that summer at their home in Somerset where Scott, as he later explained to the Canadian art dealer Walter Moos, ‘became a little obsessed’ with the pear tree which grew against his studio wall. Possibly thanks to the heatwave which engulfed England that summer, the tree produced a bumper crop. Inspired, Scott employed the pear as a motif in several works, both that year and the following, most notably in the series of 17 paintings to which he gave the title An Orchard of Pears.

An Orchard of Pears, No. 6, like the others in the series, combines a limited repertoire of forms – five pears and a plate on a tabletop, that is all – with a restricted palette in order to achieve what Norbert Lynton dubbed ‘neoclassical simplicity.’ Simple, perhaps, in formal terms, these paintings are imbued with an expressive, lyrical quality akin to a musical harmony. When the series came to be exhibited, it comes as no surprise, therefore, that Scott had a specific sequence in mind; the pictorial qualities of one painting were intended to – and do – complement and inform another.

The series was first shown in 1977 at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool as part of the exhibition Real Life, organised by Edward Lucie-Smith as a Peter Moores Liverpool Project. Displayed as a group within a white gazebo, complete with fake grass, one might assume that the ‘realism’ of Scott’s paintings was being highlighted – the pears were returned to the garden from whence they came. The catalogue, however, invited a different interpretation. Here, Lucie-Smith (who was a poet as well as a critic) referred to Scott’s pears as ‘hieroglyphs rather than representations’ and published a poem, illustrated with one of Scott’s paintings, entitled Five Morsels in the Form of Pears, which he dedicated to Scott and Erik Satie (a reference to the composer’s composition for piano duet Trois morceaux en forme de poire). The poem, laden with sexual allusions, encourages the reader/viewer to locate similar metaphors within Scott’s paintings. The orchard becomes a harem.

If, this October, as you prepare to ‘sink your teeth into one of these beauties’ (to misquote Lucie-Smith), such suggestiveness becomes a trifle disconcerting, recall instead the more subtle reading offered by the painter T.P. Flanagan: ‘As with everything he drew, when Scott concentrated his attention upon them, the pears became endowed with several layers of meaning. He perceived them not only as fruit but as symbols of fruitfulness.’

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