William Scott (1913-1989)

White Shapes Entering (1973)

Oil on canvas

107.5cm x 122.3cm

Arts Council of Northern Ireland part gifted in 2010. Kindly lent by Fermanagh County Museum.

© Estate of William Scott 2021. Image Courtesy: Museum Services, Fermanagh & Omagh District Council


William Scott was born in Greenock, Scotland, in 1913. In 1924, his family moved to his father’s native Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh where Scott soon began art classes with a local teacher, Kathleen Bridle. In 1928 he enrolled at the Belfast School of Art, moving to London three years later to take up a place at the Royal Academy Schools, initially in the sculpture department, later moving to painting. He married fellow student Mary Lucas in 1937 and soon after they travelled to Italy and France, establishing an art school in Pont-Aven with the painter Geoffrey Nelson.

In 1938, Scott exhibited at the Paris Salon d’Automne, and was elected Sociétaire that same year. Days before the outbreak of the Second World War, the Scotts left France, moving firstly to Dublin and then to London before eventually settling in Somerset. Scott joined the army in July 1942 and although not demobilized until January 1946, he continued to paint and to exhibit during the war.

On leaving the army, Scott took up the position of Senior Painting Master at the Bath Academy of Art. Around this time, his work moved closer to non-figuration and his first one-man show at the Hanover Gallery in London, which opened in June 1953, included a number of, loosely, abstract paintings.

By 1956, Scott’s success as an artist, both nationally and internationally, allowed him to give up full-time teaching. In 1958 he represented Great Britain at the Venice Biennale, one of many occasions on which his work was chosen by the British Council to be exhibited abroad.

The 1960s saw retrospective exhibitions in Zurich, Hannover, Berne and Belfast. There were also major shows in London, Tokyo, Paris, Brussels, Copenhagen, Oslo and Rotterdam. In 1966, in recognition of his contribution to the arts, he was made a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in the New Year’s Honours List. He would subsequently receive honorary doctorates from the Royal College of Art in London, Queen’s University Belfast and Trinity College Dublin.

Throughout his career, the themes of still-life, landscape and the female nude recur in Scott’s work. Although there are phases where his paintings could be called non-objective, more often they explore the space between abstraction and figuration. This is an example of the near abstract art of William Scott in which the form of the frying pan has been simplified into a strong powerful shape.

In 1989, after living with Alzheimer’s disease for several years, Scott died at his home in Somerset.