Cornish Harbour signed 'W.SCOTT' (lower right) oil on board 27 x 35 cm. (10 5/8 x 13 3/4 in.) Painted in 1950 or 1951
PROVENANCE: With J. Leger & Son, London, September 1952 (25 guineas) where acquired by William and Edith Morgan, Thence by family descent to the present owner
EXHIBITED: Possibly London, Leicester Galleries, Recent Paintings by William Scott, 1-22 February 1951, cat.no.12 (as Harbour, Cornwall) Possibly London, Leicester Galleries, New Year Exhibition, Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, January 1952, cat.no.78 (as Harbour, Cornwall)
LITERATURE: Sarah Whitfield (ed.), William Scott, Catalogue Raisonné of Oil Paintings, Volume 1, Thames & Hudson, London, 2013, p.266, cat.no.189 (col.ill, listed as whereabouts unknown)
Cornish Harbour relates to a series of paintings of harbours that Scott produced in the early 1950s. At this point the subject of the harbour was not entirely new to the artist as it was in 1939 that he painted The Harbour, Port-Manech when living in France in the artist's colony of Pont-Aven. However, in the 1950s, when Scott returned to this theme, it was Cornwall and not France that provided the inspiration for his work.
The early 1950s can be regarded as a transitional period for Scott as he moved from figuration to abstraction. The subject of the harbour provided the artist with an appropriate visual mechanism for instigating this change. It was Norbert Lynton who coined a new name for the harbour paintings of this period, interpreting them as part of a new genre - the 'still landscape'. (Norbert Lynton, William Scott, Thames and Hudson, London, 2004, p.88).
Despite the subject of the present work being landscape, Scott treats it entirely abstractly. The whole painting is organised more or less geometrically and the only truly recognisable forms, the boats, are reduced to oblique shapes in the foreground. The harbour wall itself is divided up into a series of horizontals and verticals with colour eliminated to the bare minimum. Indeed, the subdued palette of Cornish Harbour is typical of Scott's work from this period. The reduction of colour by Scott was a temporary concession in his painting at this time, enabling him to explore the other formal aspects of his art. This kind of reduction is symptomatic of Scott's work in the early 1950s as his art became increasingly minimalist.
The high stone walls either side of the entrance most likely identify the harbour as Mousehole. Along with the highly comparable Harbour Scene (sold in these rooms in 2008), Cornish Harbour relates very closely to a lithograph that was produced in an edition of sixty in 1951.