Modern & Post-War British Art
Modern & Post-War British Art
WILLIAM SCOTT, R.A.
ABSTRACT PAINTING (RADIÓ TELEFÍS ÉIREANN MURAL)
oil on canvas
168 by 381cm.; 66 by 150in.
Executed in 1967.
Commissioned from the Artist in 1966 for RTÉ Television Programmes Building, Dublin
Ronald Tallon, letter to William Scott, 10th November 1966;
Ronald Tallon, letter to William Scott, 15th December 1966;
Ronald Tallon, letter to William Scott, 2nd January 1967;
Alan Bowness (ed.), William Scott: Paintings, Drawings and Gouaches, 1938-1971, Tate, London, 1972, p.59;
John O'Regan (ed.), Scott Tallon Walker Architects - 100 Buildings and Projects, 1960-2005, Ganton Editions, Kinsdale, 2006, p.69 (seen in situ in a colour photograph);
Norbert Lynton, William Scott, Thames and Hudson, London, 2007, p.300;
Sarah Whitfield (ed.), William Scott: Catalogue Raisonné of Oil Paintings, Volume 3 1960-1968, Thames and Hudson in association with William Scott Foundation, London, 2013, cat. no.636, illustrated p.269.
Belfast, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, William Scott, 1986, p.22.
We are grateful to the William Scott Foundation for their kind assistance with the cataloguing of the present work.
One of the most accomplished and celebrated British painters of the 20th century, William Scott was part of a generation of British artists who emerged following the conflict of the Second World War and sought to redefine what it meant to be a modern painter. Scott’s work explored the relationship between abstraction and figuration, between representation and the expressiveness of the medium, themes which also occupied many of his contemporaries such as Patrick Heron, Alan Davie, Roger Hilton and Terry Frost.
Although he was born in Scotland and raised in Northern Ireland, Scott lived in both France and Italy before the start of World War II and he was particularly affected by a trip to America in 1953, where he met the pioneers of Abstract Expressionism, and developed a relationship with gallerist Martha Jackson, who would exhibit his work the following year alongside Francis Bacon and Barbara Hepworth, and in solo shows for years to come. Jackson had spoken with other art world notables about Scott's work, including James Johnson Sweeney, the highly influential curator of MoMA, who wrote to her having seen the artist’s work at the Hanover gallery- exclaiming: ‘At last, England has a painter!’ (James Johnson Sweeney quoted in: Sarah Whitfield, Ed., William Scott: Catalogue Raisonné of Oil Paintings, Vol. 2, London 2013, p. 18). While Scott engaged with and explored artistic trends both in Britain and abroad, he developed a style that was uniquely his own and remained steadfastly an individual artist.
Scott's singular style attracted major supporters and patrons throughout his career, including a number of premier architects, who acquired his work and who were instrumental in some of his most important public commissions. Eugene Rosenberg, of the architectural firm YRM, which was founded in 1944 and was responsible for such notable projects as Gatwick Airport and the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, commissioned Scott to paint a vast mural for the Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry in 1958. One of the major undertakings of Scott’s career and the largest piece he ever created, the mural was met with little enthusiasm by the British public at the time of its unveiling who still viewed abstraction as revolutionary during this period.
The controversy did not deter the artist, or put off his ardent supporters, another of whom was the Irish architect Dr Ronald Tallon, who was instrumental in commissioning the present work. Tallon, of the Dublin-based architect firm Scott, Tallon and Walker, 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, and Tallon was himself an avid collector. Tallon purchased Scott’s Berlin Blues 1 (1965) 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 (1965) after he saw it hanging in the Scotts’ London house on Edith Terrace, and it remained in his personal collection until it was sold in these rooms for £730,000 (12th June 2018).
It was Tallon who put forward a proposal to RTÉ in 1966 to have works commissioned by Irish artists for the new buildings at Montrose, Donnybrook, Dublin, including Louis le Brocquy, Michael Farrell, Patrick Scott and William Scott. The size was stipulated as: 'Height: not less than 5’0” and not more than 6’6”. Width: units of 2’6” not less than 5’)” overall' and Scott’s resulting work centres on two abstracted forms painted thinly and presented on a grand scale. Scott produced a series of works based on this theme which were exhibited at the Hanover Gallery in 1967. These works are in many ways a continuation from his Berlin Blues series, as he abandons the subjects of landscape, nude and still life which had so occupied him throughout his career. The assured formal arrangement and the exuberant colours are indelibly rooted in Scott’s previous exposure to the New York School, while the emblematic flatness and abstract formal relationships, betray his avid interest in Egyptian sculpture.