William Scott R.A. (British, 1913-1989) Grey, White and Black 86 x 111.5 cm. (33 7/8 x 40 in.) (Painted in 1962)

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Lot 9AR
William Scott R.A.
(British, 1913-1989)
Grey, White and Black 86 x 111.5 cm. (33 7/8 x 40 in.)
Sold for £ 197,000 (US$ 254,692) inc. premium

Lot Details
William Scott R.A. (British, 1913-1989)
Grey, White and Black
oil on canvas
86 x 111.5 cm. (33 7/8 x 40 in.)
Painted in 1962


  • Provenance
    Acquired directly from the Artist by Nora O'Brien
    Professor Charles Chadwick & Nora O'Brien, thence by descent to the present owner
    Private Collection, U.K.
    London, Hanover Gallery, Seven British Painters, 5-29 September 1962, cat.no.18 (ill.b&w)
    Aberdeen, Art Gallery and Museum, 1977 (as Grey, Black and White)
    Mervyn Levy, 'William Scott's Circle and Square', Studio, vol.146, no.832, August 1964, pp.46-48
    Keith Sutton, 'William Scott', Cimaise, Art et Architecture Actuels, January-February 1963, p.104
    Sarah Whitfield (ed.), William Scott, Catalogue Raisonné of Oil Paintings, 1913-1951 Volume 3, Thames & Hudson, London, 2013, p.118, cat.no.499 (col.ill.)

    'The iron-dark greys of Greenock [Scotland], the softer greys of Fermanagh [Northern Ireland], and the pale scuffed whites of the small Northern Irish houses are colours that recur frequently in Scott's painting, a reminder of the tenacious grip landscape can have on a painter's memory.' (Sarah Whitfield, William Scott, Tate Publishing, London, 2013, p.8)

    Whilst there is no reference to landscape in Scott's title for the present work, unlike others he painted shortly before and during this time (his 'Egyptian' and 'Mykonos' landscapes for example), the palette of Grey, White and Black would suggest the work was, in part, inspired by Scott's childhood environment in both Scotland and Northern Ireland as described by Sarah Whitfield above. The painting was completed not long after Scott finished his monumental Altnagelvin Mural (1959-1961) for Altnagelvin Hospital, Londonderry (see fig.1). Commissioned by the architectural firm Yorke Rosenberg and Mardall the project occupied much of Scott's time at the end of the 1950s and beginning of the new decade. Significantly, it coincided with Mark Rothko's visit to the U.K., during which he stayed with Scott and discussed mural painting. The extensive studies Scott made for the mural show how ancient Celtic art and the elemental forces at play in the landscape informed his imagery. Alongside this, The New American Painting exhibition opened at Tate in February 1959, showcasing the latest work of the Abstract Expressionists, and it is their gestural brushwork and forms which were incorporated into the mural and subsequent canvases made in the early 1960s. The background field of pale grey in the present work, for instance, has been applied with broad, energetic sweeps of Scott's brush, swirling in opposing directions and peaking at various intervals in thick clumps of impasto. Whilst different in colour, the motifs in Grey, Black & White echo those in the vast hospital painting. The irregularly shaped circles, positioned in loose rows and columns also appear in a similar 1961 painting titled Nearing Circles which was sold to Edinburgh Weavers in Carlisle who used the design for a textile, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. In 1963 a third version was painted by Scott which shifted the order of the colours in its title. Black, Grey and White is a larger canvas (the same size as Nearing Circles, 63 x 68 inches) and the imperfect white circles are contained within frameworks of varying densities of black. Sarah Whitfield notes:

    'Making two different versions [or indeed three in this case] of the same painting was a habit that served several purposes. On a practical level, if Scott thought a painting was particularly successful, a second version allowed him to exhibit it in both New York with Jackson and in London with Brausen [Hanover Gallery]. On a painterly level, it allowed him to play around with light and dark versions, experimenting with the way density and balance can be altered through colour.' (Op.Cit. p.59)

    Grey, White & Black (1962) is appearing at auction for the very first time. Sarah Whitfield comments on this work in the catalogue raisonné of oil paintings:

    'It was painted in time to be shown at the Hanover Gallery in September 1962. It may have been finished by the time Scott's friend Mervyn Levy saw it in the painter's studio sometime before August that year. The August issue of the Studio carried an article on Scott by Levy and featured several photographs of the artist in his studio (Fig.1). Three of these show the present work on the easel. As Levy noticed, "in spite of the appearance of spontaneity Scott works on his paintings a long time and invariably keeps a number of works in process of evolution simultaneously". (Sarah Whitfield, William Scott Catalogue Raisonné of Oil Paintings, Thames & Hudson, London, 2013, p.118).

    'The day books of the Hanover Gallery twice record the sale of this painting to the current owner, once on 5 September 1962 (entry crossed through) and again on 10 April 1963. According to the collector (in a letter to Norbert Lynton dated 18 February 2005), the earlier date is correct.' (Ib. Id. p.118)
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