Two Washington painters, Cita Scott and Margaret Olney McBride, are showing recent still lifes in adjacent galleries at the Phillips Collection. Rarely do we see in Washington new works of art so mild, so respectful of tradition. These hushed and inoffensive shows coexist with ease.
Most of the McBrides rely so much on line that they look like paintings yearning to be drawings. Their colors may be light, but their geometries are heavy. McBride fills triangles and ovals, rectangles and circles--particularly circles--with colors that seem borrowed from the late, translucent watercolors of Cezanne.
Her crisp right angles are provided by mullions, shelves and moldings. Her circles are the circles of tambourines and bowls. In her "Winter Window" (1981), amidst all that order, Cezanne's ghost is glimpsed in the towel at the left, the bottles at the right, in the branches of the trees and the pears on the windowsill. Some artists build their paintings with loose and easy sketches over which they paint with painstaking care. McBride seems to work the other way around. While the thin colors she uses--beiges, airy blues and grays--seem to shun the harsh, her geometries embrace it. So severe is her drawing that her brushwork seems, in contrast, almost nonchalant. The machined and the casual fight in McBride's pictures, and that struggle drains them.
The best still lifes of Cita Scott are considerably more nourishing. The viewer could grow hungry studying her strawberries and raspberries, onions from the garden, bunches of asparagus, ears of corn and fresh-picked pears. Scott's pictures cannot help but call to mind the American 19th-century still lifes in "Painters of the Humble Truth," the survey of the genre now on view in Baltimore. Her chief motive seems to be to paint images the viewers can wholeheartedly believe. Her painting is uneven--and best when most convincing.
Her "Anjous with Forelle" (1982), a study of three pears, two green and one red, is a delightful little picture. Nearby hangs a painting of a bowl of raspberries that makes the viewer wish he had brought along a spoon, perhaps a sprinkling of sugar, and a dollop of fresh cream. But parts of other pictures--the heavy, muddy sea behind the still life in "From an April Garden, Calafell" (1980), or the chair of blue and white in "Tuesday Onions With Lemons, Calafell" (1979)--suggest nothing but bad painting. Scott's show, despite its flaws, is protected by her honesty, her lack of affectation, her willingess to show us exactly what she sees.
Both exhibits close May 30.