Artwork of the Month - December 2015

Whites, 1964

Oil on canvas
184.8 x 121.2 cm / 73¾ x 47¾ in
Private collection

Scott, having been awarded a Ford Foundation grant, spent 1963 living in Berlin as an artist in residence (his wife Mary was with him for the majority of the time). In December 1964, the Scotts left Germany to return to England. On 14 December Scott wrote to his American dealer Martha Jackson telling her: ‘We are back in residence in LONDON ... It is very difficult for me to write about Berlin and Germany. I am still too near to it but it was a very interesting experience which I would not have missed.’* A good friend, Alan Taylor, who helped the artist clear out the Berlin studio, wrote to Mary Scott years later recalling their time in Berlin: ‘I never realised what a hard struggle his art involved him in until just before you left. Then I helped him clear up the studio and was astonished to see the dozens of attempts to get something “right” – all that he discarded – torn up and put into the bin.’** Taylor remembered that he and Scott spent an afternoon filling up bins with discarded work, destroying about 30 or 40 works on paper.*** Whites, 1964, was one of those works painted in the Berlin studio which was spared. Given its size, it must have been painted after 17 March 1964, the date Scott moved into his Berlin studio, and before September when it was included in the exhibition Stadien und Impulse at the Haus am Waldsee, Berlin.

It can be thought of as a pair to another painting of the same year also entitled Whites (in the collection of the National Museums Northern Ireland, Belfast). The two works, which share the same dimensions and the same minimalist palette, were both included in the illustrated lecture which Scott recorded for the British Council in 1972, reinforcing the idea that he wanted the two works to be seen together. The text which accompanied the slides of these paintings evocatively elaborates upon Scott’s mood whilst painting them: ‘In 1963 I had again a reversal of attitude… My painting became more flat and again close to some of the very simple, almost minimal statements that I had made ten years before.’


* William Scott, letter to Martha Jackson, 14 December 1964
** Letter from Alan Taylor to Mary Scott, 2 January 1990
***Alan Taylor, in conversation, 2009