Lot 44
  • 44

William Scott, R.A.

80,000 - 120,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • William Scott, R.A.
  • still life with candle
  • signed on reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 39 by 47cm.; 15¼ by 18½in.


Arthur Jeffress, London
Mr and Mrs Graham Davies
Sale, Sotheby's, London, 30 September 1992, lot 111, painted on the verso
Private Collection
Mark Adams Fine Art, London
Private Collection 

Catalogue Note

The present work and the painting on the reverse, Still Life with Frying Pan (painted 10 years later circa 1958), are registered with the William Scott Archive as no.1590.
Sarah Whitfield is currently preparing the Catalogue Raisonne of works in oil by William Scott.  The William Scott Foundation would like to hear from owners of any work by the artist so that these can be included in this comprehensive catalogue or in future projected catalogues.  Please write to Sarah Whitfield c/o Sotheby's, 20th Century British Art Department, 34-35 New Bond Street, London W1A 2AA.

The present painting is a variant on Still life with Candle (National Museums and Galleries of Wales), also painted in 1948. As such it belongs to a distinctive group of early still life paintings that see Scott developing a vocabulary and manner that would see him emerge as one of the leading younger British painters in the early 1950s.

Often marked by a tension between the apparent austerity of the objects depicted, the simplicity of the arrangements and the richness of colour and paint handling, this group roughly spans a three-year period, after which Scott's nascent interest in abstraction began to introduce new elements to his painting. However the concentration in these paintings on creating images which quite specifically seem to avoid any sense of narrative or meaning beyond that directly presented to the viewer may be seen in the context of wider debates in British art immediately after the end of WWII. Whilst Scott had worked in France prior to 1939 and had a good knowledge of contemporary European art, both at first hand and through other painters, the enforced isolation during the conflict had brought a very pronounced strain of romanticism into the work of British artists of all generations. Currency restrictions made European travel immediately after the end of the war difficult, and in spite of the work of some commercial galleries, larger exhibitions and the dedicated periodicals, the re-engagement with current continental art was slow. Although it became less pronounced, the narrative and romantic element of much British art continued after the war, and thus the austerity of Scott's paintings can be seen as a reaction against the imagery of older contemporaries such as Sutherland, an acknowledgement of current European trends, such as Picasso's still life paintings of the 1945-6 period, and a return to the simple still life imagery of much earlier artists Scott admired such as Chardin.

Whilst the subject matter of the present painting is less functional than the kitchen still life paintings, the presentation is kept intentionally simple and whereas discarded playing cards and an extinguished candle may have carried great symbolism in a seventeenth-century Dutch memento mori, here they provide a vehicle for Scott's exploration of compositional possibilities.

Indeed, another painting clearly produced concurrently with the present work, Candle and Cards (Private Collection, Ireland) is rather more literal, lacking the elements of abstraction in the background that distinguish this work, and perhaps looks forward to his paintings of the early 1950s. Indeed in this breaking up of the background into abstract flat geometric shapes that can be read as being derived from falling shadows and the use of the playing card motif, we may be seeing Scott making a nod towards the work of Ben Nicholson, who had used playing card imagery, albeit in a more whimsical manner, in a series of small semi-abstracted paintings of around 1945, a number of which were illustrated in Herbert Read's monograph on Nicholson published in 1948.

The ability to extract the essential compositional elements from even the most ordinary objects and create a picture of great harmony was the hallmark of Scott's painting and in a work such as Still Life with Candle, we can see how completely Scott was able to forge this concept in his early career.