Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

'Young Male Objects': The Ideal Sculpture of Kathleen Scott

Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

'Young Male Objects': The Ideal Sculpture of Kathleen Scott

Article excerpt

'She has established a reputation as one of the greatest woman sculptors of her time', claimed the Hull Daily Mail of Kathleen Scott (1878-1947) in 1934.1 Apart from Eric Gill - whom she respected - and her bête noire, Jacob Epstein, no other practising sculptor in Britain attracted as much publicity or fame during the interwar years. This was reflected in her extensive newspaper and magazine coverage, ranging from The Times to Queen, the Methodist Recorder to Apollo. In March 1937 Scott was the first sculptor to be televised on the BBC demonstrating her techniques (fig. 1). That evening Walter Gropius, interviewed by Edward Maxwell Fry, would be her counterpart in architecture.2

There are several possible explanations as to why Scott has subsequently become marginalized in the history of art. She came from the same 'lost' generation as William Reid Dick and Richard Garbe, which followed the New Sculpture and preceded the high modernism of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. While feminist art historians have powerfully indicted the silencing of women's voices and ideas in the construction of modernist canonical histories, Scott has arguably suffered for being neither feminist nor modernist. By dubbing her 'sneeringly anti-feminist', Germaine Greer helped create an obstacle to her inclusion in the grand reclamation exercise undertaken during the heyday of women's art history some thirty years ago.3 In the few instances where recent scholars have mentioned her sculpture, it is briskly summarized as being 'in a rather academic style' and 'competent, not innovative, perfectly of her time'.4

An attempt is made here to reclaim a major area of Kathleen Scott's sculpture from 'the enormous condescension of posterity',5 namely her ideal or imaginative works, and particularly her bronze male nudes dating from between 1920 and 1938. She executed twelve such works on an over-lifesized, life-sized or large statuette scale during this period. No other British sculptor of the twentieth century before Elisabeth Frink subjected the male body to such sustained scrutiny. In 1936 an Eastern Daily Press journalist astutely observed: 'It is interesting to speculate on which of [her] two very different styles will be associated with her name by generations to come - these graceful, fanciful figures of youth or the rugged portrait busts.'6 This dichotomy reveals another previously unacknowledged parallel with Epstein, whose carved 'Great Themes' were effectively subsidised by his lucrative and fashionable portraiture.7 Whereas far more importance is generally accorded to Epstein's imaginative works than to his portraits, the reverse applies to Scott. Her sculpture is known today, if at all, for 'heads of men whose features suggest high power or intellect',8 including two monarchs, four prime ministers, numerous writers, musicians and aviators, and above all the monuments to her first husband, Antarctic explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott (1915, Waterloo Place, London; 1917, Christchurch, New Zealand) (fig. 2). Repeatedly, however, Scott stressed the intense personal importance of her complementary ideal nude sculpture and its connotations of aspiration, telling James Lees-Milne: 'really the only thing I've cared about are young male objects'.9 She declared of one such work, 'If somebody immaterial says how like my bust of so & so is, I am quite pleased, but if anyone but the very real admire my These Had Most to Give I want to put a blanket over it, I'd even drop it in the river, how dare the fools admire it.'10

This comes from a diary entry of 1925, from one of 38 volumes lodged in Cambridge University Library. They were posthumously published in an abridged and sometimes expurgated form as Self-Portrait of an Artist (1949). The tone is not untypical. David Crane, Robert Falcon Scott's biographer, said of his widow that she was 'a woman who saved for posterity everything that was most egotistical and self-dramatising in her character'. …

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