Artwork of the Month - October 2015

Red Herring, 1947

Red Herrings
Oil on canvas
36.9 x 54 cm / 14½ x 21¼ in
Signed upper right W SCOTT
Leicestershire County Council Artworks Collection

Sixty-seven years ago, in October 1948, William Scott had his first one-man exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in London. It was an opportunity to show a comprehensive selection of the paintings on which he had been working following the end of the Second World War. A total of thirty paintings, mostly still lifes and nudes, were displayed. Red Herrings was one of the works Scott chose to exhibit, and not for the first time. It must have been painted by the end of the summer 1947 as it was included in the British Council exhibition, Modern British Paintings 1942–1947, which began its tour of European cities in October that year.

Like other paintings by Scott of the later 1940s, Red Herrings reveals a shift in his work; while the still lifes of the 1930s owed much to Scott’s understanding of the work of the impressionists and post-impressionists, what is revealed now is his interest in cubism. The sharp angles of the stiffly folded paper, the use of layers and the flattening of the picture plane all suggest a familiarity with the cubist still lifes of artists such as Henri Laurens, Georges Braque and Juan Gris, paintings with which Scott would have been familiar; The Cubist Spirit in its Time, the influential exhibition organised by the Belgian art dealer, writer and artist, E.L.T. Mesens, had opened at the London Gallery in March 1947.

The Leicester Galleries exhibition caught the eye of several critics, among them Wyndham Lewis, whose review for the Listener – equivocal though it was – must have been appreciated by the artist: ‘The “Recent paintings of William Scott” at the Leicester Galleries are likewise very much worth a visit. He is a newcomer. What he has to offer is an original idea of colour; a very personal, flat, empty design, as if cut out in cardboard; interesting form. His statement is always so strict, parsimonious, and dogmatically severe, that it looks even emptier than it is. He brings us his mackerel and his marigolds as a child, just able to walk, solemnly brings objects – it would, like Mr Scott, bring a frying-pan, a birdcage, or a colander – and deposits them as an offering before the attentive adult. I have only one complaint. The surface quality is such as anyone would produce who took up a brush with paint on it, and filled up any given area of these canvasses.’[Wyndham Lewis, ‘Round the London Art Exhibitions’, Listener, 14 October 1948]