When you work every day with beautiful things, it can take time to notice new pieces. On occasion something a little quieter, a little less obvious, makes its way through the gallery doors. So it was with William Scott’s ethereal Blue Nude.
Born in Scotland in 1913, Scott is today celebrated for his momentous still lifes and abstract paintings of the early 1950s and beyond. Though principally known for his non-figurative work, the human form – and especially the female nude – remained a recurring interest throughout his career, taking centre stage in this screenprint and the sketches from which it originated.
(above) ‘Odeon Suite IV’, a typical abstract composition; (below) ‘Portrait of a Girl’, an early figurative work from 1948
Blue Nude began life as part of a project organised between Scott and the writer Edward Lucie-Smith in 1970. Scott was to produce a series of drawings of the female figure which would be accompanied by Smith’s erotic poetry. His model, an art student called Sondra Cohen, remembers being asked to wear bright mascara, the pair eventually settling upon the distinct cobalt shade in which her portraits were completed.
Rendered in as few strokes as possible – just three make up this pose – Scott’s work cannot help but recall the Nus Bleus of Matisse. It is his restraint that gives this image its delicate energy: dreamily floating beside Lucie-Smith’s text like an imagined fantasy, these few lines replicate the tentative discovery in the poetry he is illustrating. The viewer is encouraged to ‘fill in the gaps’, to imagine the fullness of the figure whose impression Scott paints. As the title of the series states, these are the outlines of A Girl Surveyed.
Scott began by painting Cohen’s outline in his studio rooms, later translating these sketches into large screenprints. In touch, he demonstrated the same attention to texture that had characterised his earlier paintings. The brushwork, with its gentle bleed of ink into paper, lends an otherwise austere outline softness and sensuality. Its dusty quality, almost powdered around the edge, echoes his model’s faintly sexual eye shadow. In its simplicity, this is an image where the smallest details enrich, where the line is palpable and the eye is made almost to feel the paper as much as see the suggested figure. It offers an experience for the senses, as well as the imagination.
Scott once said of his own work that drawing for me is exploring, not explaining, containing geometry, sex, distortion not correction, forms pure and impure. We can think of few better examples of this explorative way than the tactile lines of Blue Nude.