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William Scott - Poem for a Jug No. 19

William Scott

Poem for a Jug No. 19

Oil on canvas: 32.2(h) x 36(w) in / 81.9(h) x 91.4(w) cm
Signed and dated on reverse

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BY 158



 Greenock, Scotland 1913 - 1989 Somerset


Poem for a jug, No.19


Signed and erroneously dated on the reverse: W SCOTT 90

Oil on canvas: 32 ¼ x 36 in / 81.9 x 91.4 cm

Frame size: 33 ½ x 37 ½ in / 85.1 x 95.2 cm

In a white gessoed and waxed tray frame


Painted in 1980[1]



Gimpel Fils, London

Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London

Archeus Fine Art, London

Beaux Arts, London;

private collection, UK, acquired from the above in 2002



London, Gimpel Fils, Poem for a jug, 20th May-21st June 1980, no.19, illus. (dated 1979-80)

Madrid, Museum Municipal, Pintura Britanica Contemporânea, April-May 1983, illus.

Dublin, Kerlin Gallery, William Scott, 9th October-2nd November 1998, no.10

Sydney, Annandale Galleries, William Scott Paintings and Gouaches, 11th May-12th June 1999, no.11



Norbert Lynton, William Scott, Thames & Hudson, London 2004, pp.336, 338

Sarah Whitfield (ed.), William Scott Catalogue Raisonné of Oil Paintings, vol. 4, 1969–1989, Thames & Hudson in association with the William Scott Foundation, London 2013, p.270, no.887.

Nobert Lynton, William Scott, Modern British Masters Vol. 1, Bernard Jacobson Gallery,

London 1990, no.31, illus.



Inspired by and developing from the group of small jug paintings he had exhibited at the Gallery Moos, Toronto, the previous year, Scott began a numbered series of twenty-six oil paintings entitled Poem for a jug in 1979[2], which were exhibited together at the Gimpel Fils Gallery in May-June 1980. Though based on a single theme, the works vary in size from 10 × 12 inches, including Poem for a jug, No. 4 at the Jerwood Gallery, Hastings, to the slightly larger Poem for a jug, No.11 at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, up to 32 × 36 inches, such as the present work. The colour schemes and objects depicted also diverge, several, including Poem for a jug, No.1, not actually representing a jug.


Scott declared in 1947, at the beginning of his career: ‘I find beauty in plainness, in a conception which is precise….a simple idea which to the observer in its intensity must inevitably shock and leave a concrete image in the mind’. With the Poem for a jug series, he refines his still life motifs to their essence. In Poem for a jug, No.19, the eponymous ochre jug is a square with a lip and a loop for the handle, floating next to a brown square which might - or might not - represent a cup. An oval shape, perhaps the edge of a white dish, protrudes from the left-hand margin. The exquisite balance of the shapes radiates the sense of calm which is so characteristic of Scott’s work. The outlines are precise, yet not sharp, shimmering softly against the ground. Scott mixes blue into his white paint, creating a textured plane of subtly shifting hues.


In a letter dated 26th April 1980, Scott wrote to Jean-Yves Mock explaining that the title of the series was inspired by the poet John Keats: ‘My immediate problem for the catalogue when we discussed it last week was how to title so many works with the same subject. While at Coleford I arrived at the conclusion that one title could cover them all and inspired by Keats I decided to call it “Poem for a Jug” using “Poem” rather than “Ode” and “Jug” rather than “Urn”’.[3] The final lines of Keats’s poem of 1819, Ode on a Grecian Urn, as well as the author’s homage to a single object, seem particularly apt to Scott’s series: ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know’.






Greenock, Scotland 1913 – 1989 Coleford, Somerset


Born in Greenock, Scotland on the 15th February 1913 to an Irish father and Scottish mother, William Scott grew up in Enniskillen, a small town in Northern Ireland.  He studied at Belfast College of Art from 1928-31 and at the Royal Academy Schools in London from 1931-35, first in the sculpture school then from 1934 in painting.  During his education at the Royal Academy, Scott won a silver medal for sculpture, became a Landseer scholar in painting and on leaving the schools was awarded a Leverhulme Scholarship.  In 1936 Scott worked for six months in Mousehole, Cornwall.  The following year he married a fellow student at the Royal Academy, Mary Lucas.  For the next two years William and Mary Scott travelled and lived abroad, mainly in France, Venice and Rome.  William, Mary and Geoffrey Nelson ran an art school at Pont-Aven in Brittany in the summer months of 1938 and 1939, living for the rest of the year in the south at St. Tropez and Cagnes-sur-mer.  In 1938 he was elected Sociétaire du Salon d’Automne, Paris.  He left France in the autumn of 1939, spending a few months in Dublin before returning to London.  In January 1941 he took a cottage at Hallatrow, near Bristol, where he ran a market garden and taught part-time at Bath Academy. 


In 1942 Scott was given his first one-man exhibition at the Leger Galley, London.  The same year he volunteered for the army and served nearly four years from 1942-6 in the Royal Engineers, during which time his painting practically ceased.  While in the map-making section, Scott learnt the technique of lithography.  In 1945 he illustrated the Soldier’s Verse, chosen by Patric Dickenson with original lithographs by William Scott.


In 1946 Scott was appointed Senior Painting Master at Bath Academy, Corsham.  He was elected a member of the London Group in 1949 and in 1953, after teaching at a summer school in Canada, Scott visited New York, where he met Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Frans Kline.  In 1958 a retrospective exhibition of Scott’s work was exhibited at the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, and he was commissioned to create a large mural for Altnagelvin Hospital, Londonderry. In 1959 he was awarded first prize in the painters’ section at John Moores Liverpool Exhibition. William Scott died on 28th December 1989.


[1] Scott erroneously dated the painting on the reverse to 1990, though he made the work in 1980 and tried to correct his dating. The catalogue raisonné states: ‘The date in the signature is an error on Scott’s part. He appears to have first written ‘80’ and then changed the ‘8’ to a ‘9’ ’. Whitfield (ed.), op. cit., vol. 4, p.270, no.887.

[2] Whitfield (ed.), ibid., vol. 4, pp.258-277, no.872-894.

[3] Sarah Whitfield (ed.), ibid., vol. 4, p.258.


Other Works By
William Scott:

William Scott - Untitled William Scott - Blue, yellow and brown