Artwork of the Month - January 2016

Fish, Eggs and Garlic, 1949 or 1950

Fish, Eggs and Garlic
1949 or 1950
Oil on canvas
57.2 x 99 cm / 22½ x 39 in
Private collection

For many, January means a return to healthy eating after the excesses of the festive season. Fruit and vegetables feature frequently in William Scott’s paintings, most notably in the 1940s and 1970s. When Scott looked to nature’s bounty for inspiration, he didn’t have far to go; living in Somerset meant that those staples to which he was drawn – mushrooms, beans, pears – were just outside the door. Indeed, when the Scotts first moved to the west country – they bought Elm Tree Cottage and Farm at Hallatrow in March 1941 – William studied vegetable gardening and began to grow produce in part of the large walled garden behind the house (the family ate what they needed and he sold the surplus in Bath).

Although Fish, Eggs and Garlic was exhibited under this title at Scott’s 1951 solo exhibition at the Leicester Galleries, London, it was later, albeit briefly, known by a different title – Leeks. When the first owner of the painter, the collector Howard Bliss, sold it to the Hanover Gallery in June 1956, it was entered in the gallery’s stock book with this erroneous title, a mistake that was repeated when it was shown at the Wakefield Art Gallery in September the same year. In fairness to both Bliss and the Hanover Gallery, the garlic in the painting could conceivably be leek bulbs. No doubt the ambiguity would not have bothered Scott in the slightest, as he so often explained, objects in his paintings mattered as shapes not as subjects.

The painting is incredibly striking, not least for the carefully orchestrated symmetry of the composition. As ever, Scott manipulates the paint to arrive at a richness of expression which is not always immediately obvious; here the rich yellow of the table is made all the more vibrant by its juxtaposition with the red of the area underneath. It is telling that it was one of the few early works which Scott chose to exhibit at his one-man exhibition at the Charles Lienhard gallery in Zurich in 1959.