John Duncan Fergusson was the most internationally recognised artist of the Scottish Colourists. Spending most of his life split between Paris and London, he was highly influenced by the French modern movements of the early twentieth century.
Fergusson was born in Leith, but took up his training in Paris at the Academie Julian and Academie Colarossi towards the end of the nineteenth century. An interest in travel introduced him to new artists and styles which affected his work; in particular he became attracted to the work of Diego Velasquez whose work he discovered in Spain. In 1902 Fergusson made his way back to Edinburgh, where he held his first studio. During this time he was regularly seen painting en plein air in Princes Street Gardens.
Sometime in 1900 Fergusson became friends with S J Peploe, and the two regularly spent summers painting in Paris together. They both shared similar influences, such as Dutch portraiture and the works of Eduard Manet. Primarily focused on still life and portraiture, but being surrounded the bustling scenes of Paris, he began to focus on women’s millenary, social café scenes and portraits of lovers and friends.
In 1907 he relocated to Paris permanently, where he quickly became influenced by the fauvist movement, which altered the style of his works greatly. He gained a deeper appreciation for the female form, and began using bolder and brighter colours. He thrived in the artistic setting of Paris, rubbing shoulders with great artists such as Pablo Picasso and Andre Dunoyer de Segonzac. In 1908 Fergusson finished his first sculpture, the only Scottish colourist to do so.
He began to sculpt and draw the female form in motion. He sketched for the avant-garde, Ballet Russes in the height of its career. Along with fellow Anglo-American artists, including his partner of the time Anne Estelle Rice, he was a part of the group known as the Rhythmists. The rhythmist movement would affect Fergusson’s work for the rest of his life, and dance would be a reoccurring theme. In 1913 he met his lifelong partner and often business partner, Margaret Morris. An insightful and important modern dancer, her students were a source of inspiration for Fergusson, providing the perfect models for many of his paintings.
In 1913 craving colour, he travelled to the South of France and invited Morris to spend time with him there. Fergusson’s works grew more bold, lively, and jovial while there, but when World War One broke out he moved back to London. Fergusson remained in London with Morris, helping with the Margaret Morris Dance Club, working in his studio, and exhibiting as far as the United States. He then returned to Paris in the 1930’s before eventually settling back in Scotland. Fergusson and Morris would, however, continue to travel to the South of France for the rest of their lives, embracing the scenes of sunshine and warmth into their works.
They moved to the artistic city of Glasgow in 1939, where Fergusson founded the New Scottish Group. He continued to paint with bright colours, and decided to neglect the colour black all-together in his works.
While Fergusson’s career took him outside Scotland for most of his life, he always considered himself a true Scotsman, embodying what he saw as the Celtic spirit in all of his works
Fergusson’s life and work was coloured by the many women around him, and his works often reflect their unique styles.
While still living in Leith, in the first few years of the twentieth century, Fergusson’s partner of the time, Jean Maconochie modelled for him. Her independence and style captivated Fergusson who began painting strong female characters wearing ornate millenary creations. In 1901 Fergusson first exhibited in London at the Royal Academy and from there he began spending more time between London and Paris. His fascination with hats and independent female characters continued, although the women in his life changed.
He quickly found himself in a circle of Anglo-American artists with his new partner Anne Estelle Rice. Rice, whom Fergusson encouraged in a new direction of painting, was originally a journalist from the United States.
Fergusson was the most intellectually inclined of the Scottish Colourists, and became involved in multiple spheres outside of painting. With Rice, and the other members of his new circle, he became the founding art editor of the journal, Rhythm in 1911. The title of which came from a collection of nudes Fergusson painted between 1910 and 1913, which were also being exhibited at the time.
This source of inspiration led his work in a new direction. During the First World War Fergusson began to place more of a focus on sculpting. He worked with a multitude of materials, including stone and wood as well as casting in bronze and brass. Sculpting allowed him to play with the female form in a new way, giving a further sense of life and movement to his female figures.
Although female nudes were not necessarily a topic of controversy, the erotic undertones of Ferguson’s sculpted women caused some critics to look upon them unfavourably. From the fullness of the exposed body to the idealised individual parts, his sculptures were daring but reveal his intense fascination with capturing the multitude of shapes and movements the feminine.
Fergusson was adamant throughout his life, that he was a true Celt. He believed that the Celtic spirit was embodied by the feminine spirit, and his works are closely tied to this belief throughout his career.
Robin Anderson, Jennifer Kinnear, Kirstie Meehan and Alice Strang discuss the life and work of Scottish Colourist JD Fergusson including his relationship with Margaret Morris and the establishment of the Fergusson Gallery in Perth. This film was produced as part of partnership between the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh and The Fergusson Gallery, Perth & Kinross Council