Artwork of the Month - September 2017

Girl at a Table, 1938

Girl at a Table
Oil on canvas
81.8 × 65 cm / 32¼ × 25½ in
Signed lower left W SCOTT 38
Private collection

Signed and dated 1938, this composition was said by Scott to have been ‘painted in Italy in 1938, before going to live in Brittany’. This statement was made in a script for a recorded illustrated lecture made in 1972 for the British Council. He went on to say: ‘I show it to you so that you can see the obvious influence that Cézanne made on my choice of subject. The handling of paint and my long obsession with still life and figure painting, that over the years took so many different turns, influenced by current events and changes of ideas that were to be of importance to me.’ Scott had included the painting in the earlier illustrated lecture that he had recorded for the British Council in 1959. Describing how he had spent many years as a student painting from the model and how ‘the figure was the problem of the day’, he had gone on to say, ‘Perhaps you can see from a picture like this how much as a student I admired Derain and Cézanne and Modigliani and Picasso. One’s first loves in painting matter more than anything else, and these were the painters I first admired. I still do.’

Indeed, Ronald Alley, in his 1963 book on Scott, pointed out how similar the conception is to Cézanne’s Card Players: ‘What is especially characteristic is the way a few simple objects are contrasted with large empty areas – though this emptiness is enlivened by qualities of paint and colour which give a meaning to it.’

The painting’s title went through revisions over the years. When it was included in Alan Bowness’ 1964 monograph on Scott, it was given the title Girl at a Table with an additional title, Figure and Still Life, added in parentheses; the title Figure and Still Life had appeared the year before in Alley’s book (published in the series ‘Art in Progress’ edited by Jasia Reichardt.) By the time of Scott’s retrospective at the Tate Gallery in 1972, however, the additional title had been dropped, a decision certainly approved by the artist.