The focus of Watt’s paintings during the 1990s was highly realistic female figures posed alongside drapery. Here we see a naked woman, seated upon a low futon shrouded in a white sheet, awkwardly propped up against several pillows. Watt has acknowledged the early influence on her work of Ingres’ Odalisques, with their erotic and romanticised images of the female form, located in a sensuous, oriental setting. Here, however, the sitter is not idealized but very candid; the awkwardness of the pose anchors the model in reality. The room is very sparse, with bare floorboards and paint splatters on the floor – there has been no attempt to mask the reality that this is a model being painted in an artist’s studio. The painting, titled Pears
, refers to the unexpected element of the image: the pile of pears placed in the sitter’s lap. Why are the pears there? The green colour is the most highly keyed element of the painting, drawing the eye into the image, in order to focus the viewer on this area of the composition, where the pears also serve to cover the sitter’s genitalia. This recalls not only the fig leaf associated with Adam and Eve, but also alludes to forbidden fruit. Over time, Watt found herself more interested in the impression left upon the drapery by the human figure than the sitters themselves. Despite this, her later paintings are still very much connected to the human form and rooted in these early nudes. It is the interplay with presence and absence, the idea of the impact of the figure on its surroundings, which begins to interest Watt.
Alison Watt graduated from the Glasgow School of Art in 1988. Her significance and skill were recognised at a young age, when she won the John Player Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery in London in 1987. There have been extensive exhibitions of her works, including at Flowers East (1995), where this painting was exhibited. She also served as artist in residence at the National Gallery from 2006 to 2008, and was the youngest artist to do so. She was awarded an OBE in 2008.