WILLIAM SCOTT, R.A. | Berlin Blues 2
- After William Scott of Brighton
- Berlin Blues 2
- signed on the stretcher bar
- oil on canvas
Dawson Gallery, Dublin
Dr Ronald Tallon and thence by descent to the present owners
Zurich, Gimpel & Hanover Galerie, William Scott Neue Bilder und Aquarelle, 25th March - 26th April 1966, cat. no.7;
Dublin, Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, ROSC '71: The Irish Imagination 1959-71, 23rd October 1971 - 5th May 1972, cat. no.84 (as Berlin Blues, 1964-5), with tour;
London, Tate, William Scott: Paintings Drawings and Gouaches 1938-1971, 19th April - 29th May 1972, cat. no.85 (as Berlin Blues I);
Cork, Crawford Municipal Art Gallery, ROSC '80: Irish Art 1943-1973, 24th August 1980 - February 1981, cat. no.102, with tour (details untraced);
Belfast, Ulster Museum, William Scott, 13th June - 16th November 1986, cat. no.54 (as Berlin Blues I), illustrated p.66, with tour to Guinness Hop Store, Dublin and National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh;
Dublin, Royal Hibernian Academy, Gallagher Gallery, William Scott, 12th - 27th September 1990, cat. no.7;
Dublin, Irish Museum of Modern Art, William Scott: Paintings and Drawings, 22nd July - 1st November 1998, cat. no.64 (as Berlin Blues 1, 1964);
Dublin, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Shifting Ground: Selected Works of Irish Art 1950 - 2000, 10th November 2000 - 18th February 2001, cat. no.61 (as Berlin Blues, 1964).
William Scott, letter to Anne Crookshank, 19th January 1973;
Norbert Lynton, William Scott, Thames and Hudson, London, 2004, pp.282-3, 284, 288, illustrated;
Dr Ronald Tallon, letter to Robert Scott, 28th June 2004;
Sarah Whitfield (ed.), William Scott: Catalogue Raisonné of Oil Paintings, Vol.3, 1960-1968, Thames & Hudson in association with the William Scott Foundation, London, 2013, cat. no.584, pp.206-207, illustrated.
In November 1963, William Scott and his wife, Mary, moved to Berlin on the invitation of the Ford Foundation for Scott to take part in the Berliner Künstlerprogramm, an artist-in-residence programme, run by the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service). Scott had been one of the primary conduits between the New York Abstract Expressionists and the avant-garde community around the Bath Academy of Art, Corsham, where he was the Senior Painting Master, initially visiting the United States in 1953, where he met Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko. The quintessential British abstract artist, however, Scott was pulled between American and European modernism, and the Berlin residency presented a heady offering of inter-disciplinary creativity and collaboration within a European context. The residency lasted 12 months, though the Scotts remained for a few extra months before returning to the UK. Upon their arrival the couple immediately plunged themselves into the artistic and cultural life of the city. Scott was able to work in a large studio in the Künstakademie in West Berlin and formed close friendships with Xenakis, the Greek composer and Hans Scharoun, the Greek architect, as well as the other artists on the Berliner Künstlerprogramm such as André Masson, Emilio Vedova and Antonio Saura. The Scotts’ son, James Scott, recalled that, ‘they both very much liked living in Berlin because, being artists from the West, they now seemed to have a central place in society. At the same time, they had the freedom to come and go into East Berlin. Mary was a lover of ballet, and they often would go to the ballet in East Berlin. Also, they very much liked the Berliner Ensemble, which was quite staggering and perhaps more impressive than anything on offer in the West’ (James Scott quoted in Norbert Lynton, William Scott, Thames & Hudson, London, 2004, p.277).
Living and working in Berlin inspired Scott to produce a distinctive group of large-scale canvases, the Berlin Blues, predominantly painted upon his return to the UK. These works, including the present work Berlin Blues 2, formed the basis for his solo exhibition at the Hanover Gallery, London, 1965. The stimulus of Berlin was both cerebral - meeting and working with Berlin creatives - and tangible: the eponymous colour of the series was a pigment Scott discovered whilst in Berlin. Motifs that emerged in Berlin, such as the ‘wig-stand’ figure and the equilateral triangle with rounded corners, alongside the compositional development of forms floating both into and out of the background had their origins in earlier schemes that came to fruition with the creative catalyst of the Berliner Kunstlerprogramm. The legacy of the Altnagelvin Mural, a major commission by the architect Eugene Rosenberg for the Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry, was still evident in Scott’s work. He drew the connection between the Altnagelvin Mural and the Berlin Blues series in a 1972 British Council Lecture: 'Related directly to the mural is the Berlin Blues series of which in the Tate exhibition I showed a group (see fig.3). In this group the colour is a strong blue and each picture has a repetitive theme that implies my concern at this time with my attitude to mural as well as public art. I felt relieved that I could expand and go beyond the ties of easel painting.' (William Scott quoted in Sarah Whitfield (ed.), William Scott Catalogue Raisonné of Oil Paintings, Vol. 3 1960-1968, Thames & Hudson in association with the William Scott Foundation, London, 2013, p.202). In addition, the emphasis on emblematic flatness and abstract formal relationships was partly rooted in an avid interest in Egyptian sculpture, fuelled by the exceptional collection of Egyptian artefacts in Berlin. The assured formal arrangement and the exuberant colours, however, are indelibly rooted in Scott’s previous exposure to the New York School. He said of his encounter ten years earlier: 'My impression at first was bewilderment, it was not the originality of the work, but it was the scale, audacity and self-confidence – something had happened to painting.' (William Scott and Alan Bowness, ‘Biographical Notes’, William Scott, exh. cat. Tate, London, 1972, p.71).
Throughout his career, Scott’s work was acquired by a number of premier architects, including Eugene Rosenberg and Irish architect Dr Ronald Tallon, who owned the present work. Tallon was arguably Ireland’s most influential modernist architect and the inaugural recipient of the James Gandon Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Architecture. His firm, Scott Tallon Walker, actively engaged in commissioning and purchasing artwork to complement their architectural projects, including pieces by Patrick Heron and Louis le Brocquy, and Tallon was himself an avid collector. Tallon initially purchased Berlin Blues 1 for the Bank of Ireland collection, later donated by the bank to the Irish Museum of Modern Art, where it is now held. Tallon subsequently persuaded Mary Scott to part with Berlin Blues 2 after he saw it hanging in the Scotts’ London house on Edith Terrace.
Scott evidently deemed the present work of great significance within his oeuvre as he selected it as the basis for a stamp design he created for the Eire postal service (see fig.2). His son Robert’s design company, Unit Five Design Ltd, was responsible for the design and typography of the stamp. On 19th January 1973 Scott wrote in a letter, ‘We are just back from New York and I was shown the design of the stamp (which I have approved) I hope it meets with approval by the Republic of Ireland! Perhaps it’s the first abstract stamp?’ (William Scott quoted ibid). The 5 pence stamp was issued by An Post, Ireland, on 9th August 1973 and 8 million stamps were printed.