Artwork of the Month - May 2015

May 1st 1961

May 1st 1961
Oil on canvas
182.9 x 121.9 cm / 72 x 48 in
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas

As mentioned in last month’s Artwork of the Month (Allegory for April 12) the title of this month’s painting – May 1st 1961 – may well refer to the date on which the painting was realised. Certainly the work was completed by the end of June 1961 in time to be sent to the British Council in London for shipping to São Paulo for the VI Bienal which opened on 1 September that year. While on show at the Bienal, it caught the eye of James Johnson Sweeney, then Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston who inquired about purchasing the painting on behalf of the museum: ‘Should the Trustees not agree to acquire it,’ Sweeney explained, ‘we will arrange it’s[sic] transportation from Houston to London. But I trust it may remain here.’ It did.

Sweeney – writer, curator and Director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, from 1952 until 1960 – had been aware of Scott’s work for some time, having visited his first solo show at the Hanover Gallery, London, in June 1953. The exhibition must have made quite an impression on Sweeney as, in a letter dated 25 September 1953, Martha Jackson (Scott’s New York dealer) wrote to inform Scott, ‘You will be interested to hear that I had cocktails with Mr Sweeney the other day. We talked about your trying to see him while you were here. He spoke very highly of your work and said, “At last England has a painter”.