Blind Contour Homage: “Skunk cabbage” Marion Dale Scott
Perhaps history would shine a brighter spotlight on Marion Dale Scott if her approach to art hadn’t been so curious and experimental. Rather than developing a single style throughout her career, Scott periodically renewed or revised her methodology, drawing inspiration from diverse artistic movements. As the National Gallery of Canada puts it, Scott’s “70-year career closely mirrors the evolution of modern art in Quebec.” There was, however, an ironic consequence to Scott’s stylistic metamorphoses: she was sometimes disregarded for a perceived lack of seriousness—Paraskeva Clark scorned her as a “Sunday painter.”
Yet, Scott’s urge to paint ran deep, and her talent emerged early. In her birthplace of Montreal, she held her first exhibition at the age of 12, and she was one of the earliest students at Montreal’s École des Beaux-Arts. After studying in London at the Slade School of Art, she returned to Montreal and married the poet and law professor, F.R. Scott, whose own socialist interests matched his wife’s—together, the pair campaigned for nuclear disarmament or against fascism and the Vietnam War.
As she grew older, painting became an increasingly necessary part of her daily life. Friends noted that she “grew depressed and irritable if too many days passed without it, and as a young mother she secretly used a dress allowance from her parents to hire a babysitter in order to get a few hours to work” (Graham). At first, Scott’s canvases reflected simplified and modernist landscapes, similar in style to the work produced by the Group of Seven. Later, her botanical studies drew clear influence from Georgia O’Keefe, while other pieces bore a likeness to the work of Amedeo Modigliani. Her style transformed again in 1943 when she was commission to paint an enormous mural for McGill University’s Department of Histology—her sombre brown tones experimented with scientific symbolism, portraying the endocrine system and emphasizing scientific “research itself, not the heroic scientist” (McDevitt). Later, her paintings became increasingly abstract, pursuing themes that paralleled her interest in peace and social activism.
While constantly seeking time to paint, Scott taught art and was widely admired for her generous hospitality; even after her husband passed away and her own health was in sharp decline, she continued to host visitors, never hinting at the challenges she faced with mobility. After a bad fall, Scott ended up in hospital and decided to end her life by fasting. It took her almost nine months to die; despite her slow decline, she is remembered by friends and relatives for her passion and kindness, and an inexhaustible passion for art and its social potential.
1906 – Montreal, QC
1993 – Montreal, QC
Exhibition Dates for this series:
Graham, Ron. “All Passion Spent: A Memoir of Marian Scott, a Quiet Radical whose Full Career Still Awaits Discovery.” Canadian Art, vol. 11, no. 1, 1994, pp. 50-55.
“Marian Scott.” National Gallery of Canada. https://www.gallery.ca/collection/artist/marian-scott
McDevitt, Neale. “Science Meets Art – On a Wall in Strathcona Anatomy and Dentistry.” McGill Reporter, 12 July 2017, https://reporter.mcgill.ca/science-meets-art-on-a-wall-in-strathcona-and-gets-a-needed-touch-up/
“Scott, Marian Dale.” Canadian Women Artists History Initiative. http://cwahi.concordia.ca/sources/artists/displayArtist.php?ID_artist=152