Fergusson and Women
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.
Although he had depicted the female nude many times, it was not until 1913, when Fergusson met the renowned dancer Margaret Morris, that the expansiveness of this theme in his art work took over. Morris became Fergusson’s partner for the rest of his life, and their careers from this point become intricately intertwined.
Morris’ ingenuity in dance and, in particular, the outdoor studies of her students, provided the perfect subject for Fergusson’s works. The female body in motion and dance combined with the natural and bright settings played up to Fergusson’s use of colour and light and his passion for the feminine form.
E√°stre (Hymn to the Sun), John Duncan Fergusson, 1924 − ¬© The Fergusson Gallery, Perth & Kinross Council
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.