Artwork of the Month - April 2017

William_Scott__Figure_and_Still_Life__1956.jpg
Figure and Still Life, 1956

Figure and Still Life
1956
Oil on canvas
121.9 x 153 cm / 48 x 60¼ in
Private collection

Scott chose to show this painting not only at his one-man exhibition at the Hanover Gallery in London in September 1956 but also at the Martha Jackson Gallery, New York, the following month (it arrived in America on 30 October, four days after the London exhibition closed). It was sold in March the following year to the University of Nebraska. However, as Martha Jackson told Scott in a letter dated 14 January 1957, she had wanted to sell it to the Museum of Modern Art, New York: ‘I thought it very stuffy that Alfred Barr did not come to your show although they told me he was planning to come, and that [James Johnson] Sweeney didn’t either.’

Early on there was a question about the title. In April 1962, in answer to a request for information from the Director of the University of Nebraska Art Galleries, the British Council wrote to Scott to ask if he could explain why it was listed in the Hanover Gallery catalogue as Figure and Still Life, but sold in New York as Orange Still Life. There is no record of Scott’s reply, but when the work was included in Alan Bowness’ 1964 book on the artist it was called Figure and Still Life (with Orange Still Life given in brackets).

The surface, which is heavily scored throughout, is built up with several layers of paint, applied in places with a spatula. Black paint is visible under the orange tabletop, which may have extended to the left before being covered over in thick black paint. The pale head of the child is flattened out against the background in the manner of a head by Dubuffet, but the placing of the head in relation to the table is equally indebted to Pierre Bonnard. By 1941 the Tate Gallery had acquired two key table still lifes by Bonnard, La Table, 1925, and Le Café, 1915, both of which Scott knew intimately.

The painting was de-accessioned by the University of Nebraska and sold through Christie’s, London, in November 1998, as the ‘Property of The Sheldon Memorial Gallery and Sculpture Garden, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, sold to benefit the Acquisitions Fund’.