Artwork of the Month - March 2015

Hare and Candle, 1949 or 1950

Hare and Candle
1949 or 1950
Oil on canvas
66.4 x 81.4 cm / 26¼ x 32 in
Signed lower right W. SCOTT
Private collection

March marks the beginning of spring in the UK (the Met Office has decreed that it starts on 1st, tradition would have us wait until the spring equinox on 20th – we at the William Scott Archive are undecided!). The days are getting longer, temperatures are – slowly – rising and daffodils and crocuses are brightening up our parks and gardens. March also marks the start of the mating season for hares; their excitable and erratic behaviour during this time (‘boxing matches’ between the males and females are especially common) giving rise to the expression ‘mad as a March hare.’

Alas, the poor hare in Scott’s painting could not be further away from a cavorting, slightly frenzied March hare. Rather, laid out on a white cloth next to a spent candle, the dead animal makes reference to the still-life iconography of Dutch and Flemish painting of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As Scott later recalled, in the immediate years following the Second World War, he became interested once more in the theme of still-life: ‘my mind dwelt again in the paintings of so many of the old masters who used the same subjects … My repertoire of objects drawn from classical paintings consisted of eggs, fish, dishes, bowls, spoons, forks and ladles. Sometimes I painted just two or three of these objects on a bare kitchen table. … I have no great interest in these objects. People might even find them boring. But my reason for choosing them is that they have been painted so many times before, they contain no story. Any virtues that I hope they contain are the virtues of painting, construction, space, colour. In fact, to be looked at through the language of abstract art.’ [William Scott, 1972]

When the painting was first exhibited, at Scott’s 1951 one-man show at the Leicester Galleries in London, this abstraction–within–figuration was recognised, if not necessarily applauded. The critic for The Times, while generally favourable about Scott’s ‘considerable advance’ as a painter, condemned the hare as ‘no more than a dull and not wholly consistent piece of abstraction.’ [6 February 1951] Others were more complimentary, however. John Russell, writing in the Sunday Times, remarked that it was with ‘a classical gravity of utterance (note the finely drawn hare) that he confines himself to the universal aspect of his eggs, fish and frying-pans.’[18 February 2015]

If the critics were divided, presumably Scott was pleased with the picture; in a professional photograph taken around 1950, Scott sits in a chair in his studio, his glance askew – other canvases are turned to face the wall but Hare and Candle, although clearly finished, sits proudly on the easel behind the artist.

Supporting image
Scott in his studio at Hallatrow with Hare and Candle to his right, c.1950