William Scott and the Frying Pan

‘If the guitar was to Braque his Madonna, the frying pan could be my guitar’
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William Scott, The Frying Pan, 1946, Arts Council Collection
In the late 1940s and early 1950s William Scott was working on a series of still lifes that were representational and classical in form in that they depicted objects arranged on a table, reflecting the Dutch tradition. However, the arrangements were spare and the forms simplified. One such is The Frying Pan, which Scott chose as one of the key works in his development. This painting introduces objects which were to become regular features of his work, simple domestic things – the bowl, the toasting fork and the frying pan. The black frying pan was to go on to assume iconic status in his art, appearing in many guises. Indeed he was to say that ‘if the guitar was to Braque his Madonna, the frying pan could be my guitar’, referring to one of the most totemic objects of Cubist still life. Although the forms are simplified, they are still very much three dimensional and they, along with the table top, are shown in perspective.

Gradually, while working in this style he begins to flatten out the objects and distort the perspective of the table tops so that they start to stand up and begin to be the flat coloured rectangles and squares that would later become the grounds for his abstracted shapes. Taken to its logical conclusion this trajectory would eventually lead to the spare abstract compositions of the 1970s in which Scott’s continual process of refining his work and his motifs led to the still life objects becoming flattened abstract shapes. Even so, there were enough clues for us to recognize them as the cups and frying pan which he started off with thirty years before. He achieved a remarkable sophistication with these simplified forms laid on a coloured ground. He clearly demonstrated his intention to use the still life to explore the relationship of spaces, forms and colours, as he himself said ‘the subject of my painting would appear to be the kitchen still life, but in point of subject is the division on canvas of spaces, and relating one space or one shape to another.’

For more on William Scott go to The William Scott Foundation at