Artwork of the Month - January 2017
Nine Illustrations of Form – Girl Surveyed
1970 or 1971
Oil and charcoal on canvas
169.3 x 173.1 cm / 66¾ x 68¼ in
This painting relates to a series of drawings that Scott produced of the female nude which were published in 1970 as A Girl Surveyed (accompanied by five poems by Edward Lucie-Smith). Those drawings – in cobalt blue gouache on strong, slightly absorbent cartridge paper – had been done from life. The model was a student at Goldsmiths College, Sondra Cohen, who posed for Scott in his London studio in the summer of 1970. Presumably these line drawings came out of the same sessions, or from the photographs of the model taken by Scott at the time.
In writing about this painting, Norbert Lynton has suggested that ‘the painter’s fascination with the female body is tempered and universalized by his use of Flaxman’s line’, a reference to the neoclassical line drawings of John Flaxman that, in Lynton’s opinion, had a strong influence on Scott’s style of the late 1960s and early 1970s (Norbert Lynton, William Scott, Thames & Hudson, London, 2004). A more likely source, especially given Scott’s respect for the French tradition, is the line drawings of Henri Matisse. The way the nine forms flow in and out of each other has a strong affiliation with the graphic lines of the dancing nudes in the mural Matisse painted for the Barnes Foundation in 1930–31. That said, in his conversation with Tony Rothon published in 1974, Scott dismissed the idea that his work owed anything to Matisse, saying, ‘I don’t think we’ve anything in common’ (‘William Scott in conversation with Tony Rothon’, Studio International of Modern Art, vol. 188, no. 972, December 1974, p. 232).
Ancient Egyptian art was another strong influence on Scott’s drawing style, and the highly stylised linear figures in his ‘Egyptian’ drawing, The Daughters of Akhenaton, 1970, have much in common with the fragmented forms seen here. The title of the drawing may well refer to a passage in Roger Fry’s The Arts of Painting and Sculpture, 1932 (a copy of which Scott owned). In the chapter ‘Egypt and Mesopotamia’, Fry states: ‘Everything done for and under [Akhenaton] had a free vitality of rhythm unapproached elsewhere in Egyptian art.’ And he goes on to say, ‘A little torso of a girl’s figure in University College, London [untraced], which is said to be part of a portrait of the King’s daughter, has a tremulous sensitiveness of modelling which in this respect surpasses anything pronounced by Greek art.’