William Scott was born in Greenock, Scotland, in 1913. In 1924, his family moved to his father’s home town of Enniskillen in Northern Ireland where Scott soon began art classes with a local teacher, Kathleen Bridle. In 1928 he enrolled at the Belfast School of Art, moving to London three years later to take up a place at the Royal Academy Schools, initially in the sculpture department, later moving to painting. In 1938, Scott exhibited at the Paris Salon d'Automne, and was elected Sociétaire that same year. Days before the outbreak of the World War II, the Scotts left France, moving firstly to Dublin and then to London before eventually settling in Somerset. Scott joined the Army in July 1942, serving firstly with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and then as a lithographic draughtsman with the Royal Engineers.
On leaving the Army, Scott took up the position of Senior Painting Master at the Bath Academy of Art, at Corsham Court, Wiltshire. During the decade in which he taught at Corsham, Scott made frequent trips to Cornwall and became good friends with many of the St Ives Group of artists. He also continued to dedicate much of his time to his own painting, which, at that date, was concerned mainly with the theme of still-life. A number of these works were shown at two one-man exhibitions at the Leicester Galleries in London, the first in 1948 and the second in 1951. 1951 was also the year of the Festival of Britain: Scott was one of the sixty artists invited by the Arts Council to exhibit as part of the celebrations. Around this time, Scott’s work moved closer to non-figuration and his first one-man show at the Hanover Gallery in London, which opened in June 1953, included a number of, loosely, abstract paintings. That same year, an extended visit to North America resulted in friendships with New York based artists including Rothko and de Kooning.
In 1958 he represented Great Britain at the Venice Biennale, one of many occasions on which his work was chosen by the British Council to be exhibited abroad. At the 1961 São Paulo Bienal, Scott won the Sanbra (International Critics) Purchase Prize. The 1960s saw retrospective exhibitions in Zurich, Hannover, Berne and Belfast. There were also major shows in London, Tokyo, Paris, Brussels, Copenhagen, Oslo and Rotterdam. In 1963 Scott was invited to take up the offer a 12-month residency in Berlin by the Ford Foundation.
In 1972, the Tate Gallery mounted a major retrospective which included more than 125 paintings dating from 1938 onwards. He received honorary doctorates from the Royal College of Art in London, Queen's University Belfast and Trinity College Dublin. In 1984 Scott was elected a Royal Academician, shortly after the onset of Alzheimer's disease. On the 28th December 1989 Scott died at his home in Somerset. Posthumous shows have ranged from a 1998 survey at the Irish Museum of Modern Art to a 2004 show at the Denise Bibro Gallery in New York.