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William Scott - Poem for a jug, no.21

William Scott

Poem for a jug, no.21

Oil on canvas: 32.2(h) x 36.3(w) in / 81.9(h) x 92.1(w) cm
Signed and dated on the reverse: W SCOTT 80

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 Greenock 1913 - 1989 Somerset

Ref: BZ 201


Poem for a jug, no.21


Signed and dated on the reverse: W SCOTT 80

Oil on canvas: 32 ¼ x 36 ¼ in / 81.9 x 92.1 cm

Frame size: 34 ½ x 38 ¾ in / 87.6 x 98.4 cm







The Scott family

Private collection, UK, circa 2020



London, Gimpel Fils, Poem for a jug, 20th May – 21st June 1980, no.21, illus. in colour, dated 1979-80

New York, Gimpel & Weitzenhoffer, William Scott, 26th April – 28th May 1983?

London, Browse and Derby, A Critic’s Choice 1950-2000 selected by Andrew Lambirth, 20th March-19th April 2013

New York, McCaffrey Fine Art, William Scott Domestic Forms: Late paintings 1976 – 1986, 10th September-26th October 2013

New York, Anita Rogers, William Scott: Paintings and drawings, Fifties through eighties, 16th October - 21st December 2019



Poem for a jug, exh. cat., Gimpel Fils, London, 1980, illus. in colour

Norbert Lynton, William Scott, Thames & Hudson, London, 2004, pp.336, 338, illus. in colour no. 244, p. 372, dated 1979

Sarah Whitfield (ed.), William Scott Catalogue Raisonné of Oil Paintings, 1969-1989, Thames & Hudson in association with William Scott Foundation, London, 2013, no.889, illus. in colour p.272



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[1], 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 Hastings Contemporary, 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.21, 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. The exquisite balance of forms radiate a sense of calm characteristic of Scott’s work. The outlines of the bottle, mug and bowl 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”’.[2] 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’.


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

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