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Sketchbook of unseen Fergusson drawings of 1st World War Portsmouth comes to light
Redcliffe Road- 1916 - 35.


EDINBURGH.- Edinburgh Art Broker Alexander Meddowes has uncovered an unseen sketchbook of drawings by Scottish Colourist John Duncan Fergusson. The drawings, which are for sale as one lot, date from the 1st World War when he was asked by the British War Memorials Committee to paint a series of studies of Portsmouth docks.

Alexander Meddowes Fine Art Broker said “The sketchbook has come from a lifelong friend of John Duncan Fergusson and his wife, the dancer Margaret Morris, which gives them impeccable provenance. As the centenary of the 1st World War approaches, they are so unique and important a record of that time in history and a unique insight into the inspiration for some of Fergusson’s later work, that they should be sold as one lot.”

The drawings are some of those made during his weeks in Portsmouth in the late summer of 1918. Often annotated with details of colours, they show his deep interest in the moving colours and rhythms of heavy engineering and at times his translation of these into more abstract forms, giving him the opportunity to pursue ideas of complex forms, colour and camouflage pattern.

Fergusson left France in 1914 to live in London , first in Paulton Square , Chelsea , before taking a studio at 14 Redcliffe Road where he remained throughout the war. His friend the civil servant and critic P G Konody (the secretary of the Venice Biennale to whose British Pavilion Fergusson had contributed in 1909 and 1912) got him an interview at the War Office although he was never made an official war artist.

Meddowes continued “When young, Fergusson had toyed with the idea of becoming a naval surgeon: he had long had a passion for water, boats and sailing, and we know he had even sold a small sailing boat to help finance his move to pre-war Paris. The sea also had been an essential part of his attraction to northern French resorts and to Royan and the far south. Now the modernity and muscular power of shipping and its unique colours gave him a completely new subject to investigate.”

Sailors in one of the sketches in the book can clearly be seen in one of Fergusson’s later works, The Liberty Men in which sailors formed a core part of the composition and reflected this type of drawing. They stand in the docks, with their blue and white uniform, in clear colour contrast to the battleship greys, red lead paint (as used on the Forth Bridge ) of the cranes and more elaborate camouflage colours devised by other artists. Here their uniformed anonymity allowed them to become as much abstract forms as their surroundings, and their facial features, as in The Liberty Men, were reduced to simply moving parts of the dockland scenery.





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