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William Scott: Paintings and Drawings at the Irish Museum of Modern Art

A major exhibition of the work of William Scott (1913-1989), one of the most influential British artists of the 1950s and ‘60s, opens to the public at the Irish Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday 22 July. William Scott: Paintings and Drawings, is the most comprehensive showing of Scott’s work in Europe for many years and is the only showing of this exhibition, which includes some 90 works drawn from public and private collections as well as from those held by the Scott family. It shows aspects of the artist’s practice from the early figurative paintings of the 1930s through his abstract works to his return to a more realistic figuration in the late 1970s and ‘80s. It examines, in particular, the relationship between his paintings and drawings and includes many previously unseen works.

William Scott: Paintings and Drawings includes many of the works for which Scott is most widely known and through which he contributed to several movements and shifts in British and international painting. Orange and Red 1957 and Nile Valley: Red and White 1962 recall the floating shapes and gestural surfaces of the American Abstract Expressionists such at Rothko and de Kooning. These artists had an enormous influence on British painting of the 1950s and ‘60s and Scott played a central role in this relationship. The exhibition also demonstrates the extent to which Scott, nonetheless, remained a strong but self-effacing individualist, more especially in his extraordinary ability to straddle the divide between figuration and abstraction which dominated painting of the time. The exhibition presents his drawings as he himself thought of them – parallel to, and not preparations for, his paintings. It includes a number of works not previously exhibited, among them the Private Suite series of drawings, which have human sexuality as their subject.

These unseen works, expressing less familiar dimensions of Scott’s mind and art, provides a valuable opportunity for a re-reading of his complete oeuvre.

Declan McGonagle, Director of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, sees this as “a key function of a public institution creating retrospective exhibitions – to unfix existing perceptions and present all possible options so that the work can be experienced afresh, in the present. In this case it was the artist who regularly unpicked form and meaning in his work and the exhibition takes its cue from his practice. As a result the ‘real’ William Scott may be seen to be broader, fuller and more creatively untidy than hitherto appreciated.”

William Scott was born in Greenock, Scotland, in 1913, to Scottish and Irish parents. He spent his youth in his father’s home town of Enniskillen in Northern Ireland, where he studied painting with Kathleen Bridle, before moving on to the Belfast College of Art and the Royal Academy Schools in London. He taught at Pont-Aven, Brittany, until the outbreak of World War II, during which he served in the Royal Engineers.

Afterwards he was appointed senior painting lecturer at the Bath Academy of Art where he attracted practising artists to join him, including Peter Lanyon, Terry Frost and Adrian Heath. He was a frequent visitor to St Ives and from 1954 he exhibited in New York, forging significant links with American Expressionists. He exhibited widely during his career, including the 1958 Venice Biennale, the Kunsthalle Zurich (1963) and the Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, New York, (1975). He had a retrospective at the Tate in 1972 and in 1986 at the Ulster Museum in Belfast, touring to the Guinness Hopstore, Dublin, and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. He died in 1989 at Coleford near Bath.

The exhibition is accompanied by a major publication William Scott: Paintings and Drawings published by Merrell Holberton in association with the Irish Museum of Modern Art. It includes texts by Mike Tooby, Curator, Tate Gallery St Ives, focussing on the content and context of his work beyond the terms of formalism, and by the critic and writer Simon Morley, who looks afresh at Scott’s work outside the framework of modernist theory. Colour illustrations of almost 100 works, biographical details, artists’s statements and contemporary reviews are also included. Price Stg £19.95.

Mike Tooby will give a lecture on Scott’s work on Wednesday 22 July at 11.30am at the Museum. The lecture is supported by the British Council. Admission is free.

The exhibition is supported by Oxford Exhibition Services.

William Scott: Paintings and Drawings continues until 1 November 1998.

Important Notice


We would like to advise our visitors that our Main Reception area is closed for renovation from 22 April until mid-June.  A temporary reception is open on the ground floor next to the original main entrance. While we prepare to open our next exhibition Hilary Heron: A Retrospective on 24 May, there are two exhibitions to see Derry Film & Video Workshop and Self: Determination: Artists Commissions. IMMA’s gardens and café are open to the public.