Artwork of the Month - November 2017

Poem for a Jug, No. 20

Poem for a Jug, No. 20
Oil on canvas
81.4 x 91.5 cm / 32 x 36 in
Signed canvas verso W. SCOTT 80
Private collection

This work belongs to a series of 26 paintings which Scott began in 1979, all of which were called Poem for a Jug.  They were shown as a group at the Gimpel Fils gallery in London in May to June 1980, and in the small catalogue that accompanied the exhibition the series is dated ‘1979–80’. The title and number of each picture is confirmed either by a Gimpel Fils label on the verso or through the gallery’s sales records. Since none of the works is inscribed with a title and number, it seems likely that the numbering was done at the time of the exhibition. In other words, the paintings were not necessarily painted in the order that they have been numbered. It is likely that several of the paintings were worked on at the same time.

The series appears to have grown out of a group of four small ‘jug’ paintings shown at Gallery Moos, Toronto, in 1978. The jug in all these paintings is a white square-shape earthenware type, with a small round handle and a sharply protruding lip. However, in four of the Poem for a Jug paintings Scott dispenses with the lip, concentrating the shape of the jug into a square and adding a circle (the circle is the space defined by the handle). In some of the paintings, the jug motif is removed completely.

Poem for a Jug, No. 20 is striking for the simplicity of its response to the theme. As Norbert Lynton has noted, it offers ‘another proposition’ to the Poem for a Jug series: ‘Just two objects, a white jug on the left, a dark blue square thing (a small vase?) on the right. Light and dark, set into a middle ground of light grey. With so few items to look at, almost all communication is carried by placing and visual weight’.

The series title, as Scott told Jean-Yves Mock (of the Hanover Gallery, London), was inspired by the poet John Keats. In a letter dated 26 April 1980, Scott wrote: ‘My immediate problem for the catalogue when we discussed it last week was how to title so many works with the same subject. While at Coleford [Scott’s home in Somerset] I arrived at the conclusion that one title could cover them all and inspired by Keats I decided to call it “Poem for a Jug” using “Poem” rather than “Ode” and “Jug” rather than “Urn”. I had already given this title to Gimpel’s for the printer on Monday and it appeared to meet with their approval.’