Artwork of the Month - August 2015

Cornish Harbour, 1951

Cornish Harbour
Oil on plywood
87.6 x 111.8 cm / 34½ x 44 in
Private collection

During the decade which William Scott spent teaching at the Bath Academy of Art at Corsham (from 1946 to 1956), he and his family would often spend some of the summer in Cornwall. These visits were significant, not only providing Scott with fresh subjects to be explored but also introducing him to new friends; it was in St Ives in 1948 (the Scotts were staying at Laity Farm, Carbis Bay) that Scott met the painter and critic Patrick Heron.

The oil paintings which Scott executed in Cornwall are most interesting, in them we find not so much a response to the sea and its concomitant landscape but rather to those man-made elements which impose a structural framework onto the coastal scene; for example sea walls (as in Sennen,, 1950, Arts Council Collection) and jetties (as in Harbour, 1952, Tate). The motif which occupied Scott the most, however, was the harbour at Mousehole. In the 1930s, as a young man who had come to Cornwall from the Royal Academy Schools in London, Scott had viewed the harbour from above, at a distance, to produce an almost seagull-like view of the moored boats. By the early 1950s, Scott’s vantage point had shifted – standing square on, looking out to sea, the harbour walls now frame and enclose. The great expanse of sea is both contained and flattened; it is treated in a manner akin to the tabletop. Writing about Cornish Harbour, 1951 (and its near copy in the British Council collection) Norbert Lynton observed that they are ‘exceptionally silent pictures’, and went on to suggest a new genre ‘to be called “still landscapes”’, by which he meant ‘landscape subjects given the character of still lifes’ (Lynton 2004, p. 88).

Supporting image
Mousehole Harbour, 1936

Supporting image
Study for Cornish Harbour, 1951