Artwork of the Month - January 2015

Blue, Black and White Composition, 1952

Blue, Black and White Composition
Oil on canvas
63.4 x 76 cm / 25 x 30 in
Private collection

January is the month of new beginnings; a new year often signals a fresh start. One of the most radical of rethinks for William Scott – in terms of his painting at least – came in 1952, the year he executed his first completely non-representational paintings. As Scott’s friend, the painter and critic Patrick Heron, put it, it was the year Scott ‘finally ejected the fish and frying-pan’. This move was no doubt prompted in part by significant events that took place in London that year, such as the landmark exhibition of paintings by Nicolas de Staël held at the Matthiesen Gallery in New Bond Street, and the weekend exhibitions of abstract art organised by Adrian Heath at his studio at 22 Fitzroy Street. Encouraged and inspired, in the summer of 1952, Scott embarked on a series of abstract gouaches. He returned to oil painting in the winter, deploying the same linear forms of structure he had arrived at while working on paper. Indeed, Blue, Black and White Composition and another oil painting, Black and White and Red Composition, are, compositionally, almost replicas of one of the abstract gouaches he had painted a few months earlier. (gouache untraced; see image below.).

Coinciding with and, it must be assumed, linked to this artistic change of direction was a move of a more practical nature; in November 1952 Scott wrote to inform his then dealer, the Leicester Galleries, that he intended to show his pictures with a different gallery. This was the start of Scott’s association with the Hanover Gallery (which would continue until its closure in 1972). In June 1953, Scott had his first one-man exhibition at the Gallery, a coherent public display of his new, more abstract works. Most of the critics commented upon Scott’s new visual language, not all were convinced by it however. The Times correspondent summed up the mood of many: ‘His [Scott’s] present exhibition at the Hanover Gallery, in which every picture is either wholly or very nearly abstract, turns out to be a severe test of his new manner. In whatever style he works his pictures have a force and impact which make them gain in competition with the work of other artists, but here, because everything is equally strong, nothing is very noticeably so. The forms Mr Scott has invented and the patterns he has made out of them are extremely bare and simple; the only departure from absolute austerity is that the paint has an excellent quality and the contours are not geometrically ruled but follow the rhythmical movement of the hand. They are, in fact, very obviously the work of an accomplished and sensitive artist, but perhaps only in the sense that no one else could have painted them; it is a nice question, and one which is inevitably prompted by most of the paintings here, whether this is enough.’

Supporting image
Untitled Composition, 1952