Artwork of the Month - October 2017

William_Scott_Reclining_Nude_1956_300.jpg
Reclining Nude, 1956

Reclining Nude
1956
Oil on canvas
92 x 152.5 cm / 36¼ x 60 in
Royal College of Art, London (Gift of E.J. Power)

Reclining Nude is one of a series of nudes Scott painted in the mid-1950s (he also executed a number of charcoal studies of the female figure at this time). Norbert Lynton has highlighted the relationship between this painting and Scott’s landscape paintings. Pointing out that the present work is less emphatically horizontal in format than other reclining nudes painted in 1956, it is, Lynton argues, ‘the most insistently horizontal’ in composition, ‘the upper outline tracing the figure’s right side continuing below the bent right knee to form a landscape-type horizon, while the right arm, bent to go behind the woman’s head, suggests a hill on the right’. He continues, ‘The head is generalised to near-blankness; the torso is broadened to stretch almost down to the bottom edge of the picture and is marked by internal lines that indicate breasts and other details. She is visually supported by cushions or rumpled bedding, marked with Klee-like lines.’ While not everyone would read the backward curve of the figure’s right arm as ‘a hill’, Lynton is surely right to recognise ‘the sense of landscape and space within the allover flatness of the picture’, especially as a few years later Scott was to describe a similar nude as ‘stretched out like a landscape.’

Although Scott made a number of life drawings in 1956, there is only one that appears close enough to the present work to be considered a possible study. However, it is obviously a drawing made from the model and lacks the humorous edge of the finished painting.

The painting was bought by E.J. (Ted) Power, a champion of contemporary art and a generous supporter of the Tate Gallery. How he came to buy this painting is not known, but he may well have got it directly from the artist. (He must have bought it early on as he is listed as the owner in the catalogue of the Rome-New York Foundation exhibition held in 1958.) Power gave Reclining Nude to the Royal College of Art before 1961, the year Ruskin Spear included it in his painting, Portrait of Sir Robin Darwin Standing before the Fireplace in the Senior Common Room of the RCA (Collection Royal College of Art). (Spear and Scott had known each other since before April 1944 when Scott, then in the army, wrote to Spear congratulating him on being elected an Associate of the Royal Academy, London.)

William_Scott_Study_of_a_Nude_1956
Study of a Nude, 1956
Charcoal on writing paper
20.2 x 25.3 cm / 8 x 10 in
Private collection