Scottie Wilson returns to England

Douglas Duncan, a Canadian art dealer, discovered Scottie’s drawings and was the first to exhibit his work. Scottie did not want to part with his drawings (hmm … where have I heard that before?) and he suggested that patrons pay to view the exhibit rather than buy his work. (A premonition, perhaps, to his work ending up on museum walls?)

I find it surprising that Scottie’s work was recognized in Toronto in the 1940s. While Europeans were embracing modern artists like Picasso, I would have expected Canadians to be far more conservative and lagging behind in their acceptance of the avant-garde.  Works by the Group of Seven were highly acclaimed at that time, and Scottie’s cross-hatched figures bear no resemblance to Canadian landscape scenes. This indicates a huge gap in my knowledge of Canadian art history and perhaps a reader can enlighten me on this point.

Scottie returned to London in 1945 and was persuaded to show his work in a solo exhibit.  Jean Dubuffet convinced him to go to France, where he was greeted by Pablo Picasso and other fans of his work. An art critic and friend of Scottie’s who travelled with him recalls:

When we arrived, not only was Dubuffet waiting, Pablo Picasso was with him. Both owned a few of Scottie’s pieces, and Picasso had come to see – and perhaps buy – some more. I vividly remember both artists eagerly admiring Scottie’s work, squabbling in their fierce, theatrical, Gallic voices over who would buy which piece.

Scottie's dinnerware design

Scottie, however, viewed commercial art ventures with contempt, and continued to sell his work on the street at minimal prices. He declared that his working-class customers were the intelligent buyers. Strangely, Scottie was commissioned by Royal Worcester to design dinnerware. (How much more commercial could you get, Scottie?) It was produced in two different colours – black on terracotta and grey and black on white glazed earthenware.  A whole range of dinner, tea and coffee, salt/pepper cruet sets were produced until 1965. One of patterns was based on totem poles of the Aboriginal groups, which Scottie had studied while in Canada. The idea of an outsider artist collaborating with one of the most traditional producers of English tableware is so odd that it challenges all of my preconceived notions of what kind of person he was. I would be interested to know how he met the request. Was it with bewilderment, excitement, interest, or derision? Did he take the commission for the notoriety, the money, or some other reason that we’ll never understand?

His picture, Song  Bird, was chosen for the 1970 UNICEF card design.

Scottie died from cancer in 1972. Although he complained of poverty his entire life, a suitcase full of money was found under his bed after his death, as well as large sums of money in various bank accounts. I wasn’t surprised to learn that.